Two years after her nine-year-old daughters are killed in a raging flood, Laura Sheldon is beginning to emerge from her cocoon of grief. She has returned to her job at the Humane Society, teaches Sunday school classes, and spends time in the garden she once tended with her daughters. But the confusion and pain of the tragedy has left deep scars on her marriage. Anxious to escape his own sorrow and Laura's unpredictable, often hurtful, mood swings, Terry Sheldon immerses himself in his job as a state trooper and the distance between husband and wife widens day by day. Laura comes to believe that the best way—perhaps the only way—to renew themselves and their marriage is by sharing their love with another child. Unable to have children of their own, they become foster parents to Alfred, a taciturn ten-year-old who has suffered more than his fair share of rejection. As Laura takes the first tentative steps to becoming a mother again, Terry finds it impossible to form a relationship with a boy whose background and interests are so different from his own. Feeling alienated and excluded, he falls into an affair with a young woman and allows himself to fantasize about starting over. Alfred guards his emotions carefully, ever alert to the precarious state of the Sheldons' marriage and to his status as an outsider in their home and the community. His adjustment is eased by his unlikely friendship with Paul, an elderly neighbor who gives him a book about the African-American cavalry unit formed after the Civil War—the "buffalo soldiers"—and encourages him to embrace their legacy of bravery and honor.
Focusing by turns on Alfred, Laura, and Terry, Chris Bohjalian illuminates lives haunted by loss and overwhelmed by fears and