This is a quiet book, as quiet as the isolated Minnesota woods that serve as its main setting, filled with all the hurts and fears the characters can't bring themselves to voice.
The book opens in 1952: a woman named Prudence is found dead in a room above a bar. We don't know who she is or how she died. To find out, we'll have to journey back ten years, to the fateful day when Prudence first appeared in the village and her life became inextricably tangled up with Frankie Washburn's.
In August 1942, Frankie has two weeks to spend at his parents' summer resort in rural Minnesota before heading off to the war. He's been looking forward to the visit despite his cold and distant father and hovering, fretting mother because it's a chance to see Billy, his childhood friend who over the years secretly became something more. Before they have a chance for a real reunion, though, a rash decision leads to tragedy. Suddenly, Frankie can't look anyone in the eye—not his parents, not his old friend Felix, the Native caretaker of the property, and especially not Billy. All he can do is escape to the European front and agonize over his choices.
The perspective shifts from one character to the next until finally the full picture emerges—of what really happened that hot summer day in the woods, and of how each character's choices since then have affected them all. It's heartbreaking at times how little they understand each other, even after living for years under the same tall trees.
I'm still puzzling over the ending a bit—not because I couldn't follow what happened, but because I'm searching for a slice of redemption and not finding much. However, Treuer is undeniably a talented writer and a master of tonal shifts. Each character is etched in fine detail. That the last chapter is told in Prudence's own breathless, scarred voice surprised me—I expected her to remain an enigma—but it's absolutely fitting, and though difficult to read, hauntingly beautiful.