The novel starts with a prologue in which the main character and narrator, David, thinks back to the year 1948 and to the events that influenced his life. David thinks about his parents and in that year he saw his father on the floor, crying, and his mother by the window, holding a gun in her hands. David also remembers a woman, lying in bed and coughing, a clear indication that she was going to die. Then, David tells the reader that he will be discussing the three people he mentioned, people who died a long time ago, and tell their stories even though there was no one left alive who loved them.
In the first chapter, David describes the town where he lived in with his parents. On 1948, David lived in a little town called Bentrock in Montana, a small town near an Indian reservation. The life the people have is a harsh one and they have to endure poverty and a harsh climate all year round. Despite all this, David feels happy and protected. David’s father, Wesley, was among the only men who did not go to war because of his leg and serves as the sheriff of the little town. Wesley’s wife, Gail, is also dissatisfied with her husband because she feels they could have a better life if Wesley were to practice law and be a lawyer instead of being a small town sheriff. The reason why Wesley wanted to become a sheriff was because he felt it was his duty because his grandfather was a sheriff too and felt it was his duty to follow into his grandfather’s footsteps. Gail wants to move from the little town but her husband refuses to do it because is the only place where he feels free to do whatever he wants. Gail also works so David is looked after by an Indian woman named Marie.
One day, Marie gets sick and Gail does everything she can to help her even though Marie tries to convince Gail that she doesn’t need any help. Marie insists that she doesn’t need a doctor and even makes David promise her not to let Uncle Frank, the doctor, come near her. When David’s parents come back home, they refuse to acknowledge Marie’s fears and insists that she should see a doctor to treat her immediately because of her worsening fever.
When Uncle Frank arrives, David notes how Uncle Frank appears to be everything his father is not and even mentions the fact that their own father sometimes talked as if he only had one son, Frank. When Frank enters the room where Marie was, she started screaming for Gail who rushed to her help. Marie continues screaming and when Frank comes out he tells the family that she might have pneumonia. Frank leaves when he sees Gail and David is keen to notice that his mother is not happy. When he is told to go inside, David eavesdrops on the conversation Gail and Wesley had and found that the reason why Gail was unhappy was because she found out that Frank has been molesting Indian women. Gail tells her husband that Frank raped Indian women but Wesley refuses to believe his wife. Gail and Wesley go to talk with Marie but Wesley is more concerned about the way his grandfather will act than the well-being of the Indian women.
The next day, Wesley goes to investigate the things he has found about Frank. When he returns home, he insists on going to talk alone with Marie about Frank and thus Gail takes David outside. That weekend, the family decides to go and visit Grandfather Hayden even though Gail expresses her desire to stay at home.
At Grandpa Hayden’s home, Hayden makes some allusions to Frank’s behavior and possible offsprings he may have fathered with Indian women. It is also implied that his behavior was nothing new and that it presented itself even before Frank got married. This makes David sure that his grandfather will say nothing to Frank about what he had heard.
David goes outside after he finishes dinner and plays with his grandfather’s gun, shooting birds from nearby trees. When the family returns home, David hears his mother and father talking about Frank, with Wesley claiming that the problem was now solved. Gail was not so sure however, claiming that Frank had to be punished for what he had done.
That night, when the family returns home, they find Marie with another Indian woman, in a better condition than they expected her to be. The next day however, Marie dies suddenly and David is told to go and stay with a neighbor until his parents can take care of Marie’s body. David goes and stays with Len, the sheriff’s deputy and the two talk briefly. David notices that Len started drinking again, hinting that something bothered him.
That night, David tells his father that he saw Frank enter the house before Marie died and David notices that both his parents changed after hearing the information.
Marie’s body is taken from the house but the family does not attend the funeral because Marie’s family decides to bury her someplace else. That week, Wesley asks Frank to come to his house and then they talk for a long time in the basement, a place where they can’t be heard. When Wesley comes back into the house, he is alone. When Gail comes home, Wesley tells her that he will have to arrest Frank and that he is in the basement. That night, the rest of the family comes to the house, demanding Wesley to let Frank go. When Wesley tells the family that Frank sexually assaulted Indian women and murdered Marie the whole family is shocked.
When David goes downstairs, he finds his father crying. Wesley also tells David that if his grandparents ever come to the house again, he is not to let them in. when David goes to buy groceries the next day, he con’t stop thinking about the girls his uncle molested every time he sees a girl in the streets.
Later that day, David sees a truck coming up to their house and Gail recognizes the men coming from the truck as being grandfather’s Hayden’s employees. One of the men has an axe so Gail runs to get her husband’s gun while also sending David to go and seek help. David runs to his father’s office but finds no one so he returns home. When he arrives back home, he sees Len approaching the house. Wesley also comes to tell the family that Frank will be charged for sexual assault and that he will make sure to leave Len at home when he is away.
Gail tries to convince Wesley to let Frank go, knowing that he will not be convicted. However, Wesley decides against letting him go, telling Gail that Frank admitted to killing Marie and assaulting the Indian women. He decides thus to take Frank to the city jail the next morning.
The next morning however, the family finds Frank dead in the basement, after he slit his own wrists with a shard of glass from a jar.
In the prologue, David recalls the events that happened after Frank killed himself. The family tried to hide his death and it was decided to be an accident. Grandpa Hayden never talked to Wesley again and the family moved in December from the little town. Wesley became a lawyer and David grew up to become a beloved history teacher. David grew up and had a happy life but he was able to see how the secret surrounding Frank’s death affected his family. Still, from those outside the family, the story was an intriguing one that embodied the spirit of the ’’wild west’’.