In the winter of 1897, midwife Elspeth Howell arrives at her isolated farmstead in upstate New York to discover an unthinkable crime. The only survivor is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal.
Their long journey leads them to a roughhewn lake town, defined by the violence of both its landscape and its inhabitants. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years.
Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.