In the opening chapter of this haunting novel, readers are there when local police discover the body of a newborn baby girl in the woods outside of a small town. The residents of the town are all horrified by the crime, and they waste no time before beginning their wild speculations of who could be the baby’s mother and father. Almost immediately the characters begin to spread rumors about people whose actions or lifestyle might hint at their involvement. Just as news of the crime brings with it a wave of these (mostly false) accusations, it also exposes some of the very complicated feelings that the novel’s characters have towards pregnancy and parenthood.
Told through the eyes of three of the town’s residents: Molly, a reporter for the local paper who is recovering from her own grief at a stillborn baby she delivered the previous year; Sandy, a high-school drop out who is rumored to be — like her mother –indiscriminately promiscuous; and Barbara, wife to the chief of police and a mother who holds her neighbors and friends to her extremely high standards of morality. Together these three women tell the story of the police investigation in the death of the infant and the response of the town to the terrifying crime.
The residents of the town, in quickly becomes clear, are very hesitant to get involved in either the police investigation or the journalistic investigation that Molly is completing on behalf of the local paper. Everyone seems to be hiding secrets both large and small and their fear of exposure is leading them to withhold information that could help solve the mystery surrounding the infant’s death.
McCreight’s narrators slowly expose a series of crimes that have plagued the town in secret for the past twenty years and together the three woman reveal not one, nor even two, crimes but several dozen and the townsfolk who perpetrated them.