Will Sampson is a man haunted by the past—not so much the past he knows about, but the past he does not. Will has never known his father and knows very little about him. That gap in his past has bothered him for years, even though Will was raised by his mother, Rose, who taught him about morality and did her best to show him how to be a good man.
Will moves to Toronto to pursue photography, but the gaps in his past still bother him. He reaches out to a woman named Susan, with whom he develops an intimate relationship. Then he finds out that she is married. He has already had difficulties fully connecting with her, but this revelation ends their relationship. His mother's moral training kicks back in, at least in part, and he tells her that when she leaves her husband (and not before), he will be there for her. They never get back together.
When Will loses his job in Toronto, he tries to remain in the city for a while, but he finally decides to return home to Medicine River. The pull of his past is strong, as are the mysteries yet to be solved and the difficulties of Will's identification with his Native American heritage. He starts a photography business in Medicine River with the help of his friend Harlan and settles into a life that is both old and new: old because Medicine River is his hometown and new because he has changed during his years in Toronto. Will's past now has layers to it, and those layers affect who he is and what he does.
Will's former relationship with Susan, for instance, affects his relationship with Louise. He recognizes that Louise needs his support in ways Susan never really did, and recognizing that need, Will steps up to fill it, even becoming a father figure to Louise's little girl. Perhaps he is trying to be the man his father never was.