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Ben Taylor grows up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, a place “where distances are measured in hours instead of miles.” His father, Bob, is a farmer fallen on hard times. Bob turns to selling moonshine to make ends meet, a desperate and dangerous attempt during the Prohibition years to avoid selling his family’s land. But once the Depression hits and Bob dies in a freak accident, Ben is forced to join the United States Civilian Conservation Corps. There, he befriends Tony Delaney, a mysterious man with an “explosive smile” who pines to marry Ben’s sister, Mary. After Ben accidentally kills a man at work, Tony rescues him by taking responsibility and is forced to disappear, leaving Mary pregnant with his child. Later, the two men are reunited in Europe while serving in World War II, and Ben is compelled to confront his guilt and dishonor over secrets long harbored. Myers paints a moving tableau of poverty in America and the devastation wrought by the Depression for so many families already in dire straits. In addition, she delicately limns the claustrophobic effects of poverty and Ben’s path to enlightenment. He ultimately becomes a reporter, and the news broadens his world: “I realized the power the news had to bring the world into our little cabin and that I’d been cooped up like a hen for my whole life, my world no bigger than the circle of distant relatives—large as that circle was—on our lonely mountain road.” The plot sometimes slows down to an amble and starts to lose focus. But the author’s elegiac writing and the sensitivity of her characterizations more than compensate.

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