Twelve-year-old Jack Hawthorne is driving the cultipacker on his father’s farm when his seven-year-old brother, David, riding on the back, falls off and is run over and killed. Believing that he could have saved his brother if he had thought clearly, Jack blames himself. His father, Dale, is nearly destroyed by the accident and periodically rides off on his motorcycle, cursing God and himself, contemplating suicide, and seducing women with his tears. Although Dale does not blame Jack consciously, his behavior intensifies Jack’s guilt. Dale’s actions also increase his wife’s sorrow, but she only cries at night behind closed doors. Barely able to move, she still takes care of her children and does her work. Religious faith and support from friends enable her to go on. She keeps her children busy with chores and activities, including piano lessons for Phoebe and French horn for Jack.
Jack’s behavior initially parallels his father’s. Driving the tractor, he condemns himself for not saving his brother and thinks of suicide. Jack always tells himself stories as he works. Before the accident, they were fantasies about sexual conquest and heroic battles. Now they are pitiful stories in which he redeems himself by sacrificing his life for others. Jack keeps aloof from people, becoming silent like his father and uncles, who never talk about their problems or feelings. Jack feels closer to the cows than he does to human beings. Finding momentary solace...
(The entire section is 515 words.)