The Civil War has just ended, and the South is now left to lick its smarting wounds. Amid the simmering tensions between the occupying Northerner soldiers, the embittered white Southerners, and the freed black populace of the South, near the small town of Old Ox, Georgia, brothers Prentiss and Landry have finally claimed their freedom. They dream of tracking down their mother, sold off and sent far away many years ago, but with few belongings, no money, and no information on her whereabouts, the chances of realizing that dream are as scarce as water in a desert.
George Walker and his wife Isabelle grieve over their only son Caleb, whom they lost to the war. In an attempt to reclaim some sense of control over his life, George resolves to cultivate the land he inherited from his father rather than selling it off piecemeal. He hires Prentiss and Landry to help him work the land for a fair wage, to the deep chagrin of his neighbors. But George, who still retains his Northern sensibilities, has never cared much for the opinions of others—and he’s certainly not going to start up now.
However, when a forbidden romance between two disgraced Confederate soldiers is unveiled, murder and mayhem ensue, threatening to destabilize the precarious balance in postwar Old Ox. Powerless against the injustice bred by resentment, prejudice, and rage, the Walkers must find some way to quench the flames before everything they’re working towards—everything they have left—is burned to ash.
This Oprah’s Book Club pick won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, the 2022 Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.