The central question of this book is what would happen if one were to take a vow to do no harm and actually lived up to it. The consequences of such a pact with God, as outlined in this heart-rending and important novel, are far-reaching and unpredictable. I'm a huge Richards fan. (So much so that I rather hope I never meet him, for it he doesn't live up to the hugely favorable opinion I have of him, I'm afraid it will affect how I view his work!) He writes with the cadence and echo of the King James Version of the Bible, which is a voice little used these days, but is familiar to anyone who reads the Southern Gothic writers -- Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor, James Agee, etc. It's a perfect fit here, as it is with all Richards' books since they are marvelous works of searing morality.There are those who might argue his work is depressing, but that was not my impression. Challenging? Certainly, and I see nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, I find it thrilling that Richards expects his readers to rise to the challenge and to question their assumptions. This story, as with the wonderfully named, FRIENDS OF MEAGRE FORTUNE, takes place in New Brunswick, Canada, along the banks of the Miramachi River. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, compassionately and masterfully shared with the reader. One of the few books on my shelf I shall re-read.