“It was in the time before war, when penny candies and quarter movies anchored our lives…..the years were longer then, long enough to accommodate one's dreams. I lived in that time and beyond, staring through the night blackness into a world as infinite as my own. It would be years, many years it seemed, before I understood my world then was as fragile as the butterflies, which were already disappearing, and as ephemeral as the penny jaw breakers and double feature movies. The Cold War with its Cuban missile crisis, and threats from the Soviet leader Khruschchev to bury us, assaulted me in ways I was not prepared for. If wisdom followed age, I was confident I would not be blindsided again. I was prepared for anything and soon convinced myself of my newfound sophistication. That is, until the sudden disappearance of Ollie Magnusson, when again the lines of real blurred. I don't believe I refused to see what was occurring. I just missed the clues. Plain and simple.”
And so begins the tale of life, love, and loss in the small town of Swanson Lake. A suicide, an impending indictment, and a mysterious disappearance provide the backdrop for Hal Moffat's maturation in rural upstate New York in the years following the Korean War. Amidst it all, Hal grabs frantically at what is quickly disappearing before him, retreating into his world and that of his passion, Opal Magnusson. But when his pursuit for her love meets with unexpected results, Hal's world comes crashing down, and the town's least likely candidate emerges as the hero.