Campbell’s novel captures a wide swath of Seattle in the early 1920s, bringing to life a city struggling with growing pains as well as class and race issues. At the center of the wide-ranging cast of characters is the long-established successful Benedict family.
Son Dick is following his father’s footsteps, while his brother Preston has no urge to settle down, instead indulging in destructive, attention-getting activities both at home and during his time in the Middle East in the Great War. Daughter Margot is a doctor, an unusual career choice at the time, and her work with the have-nots – from the poor produce workers at the Pike Place market to prostitutes to alcoholics – brings further, sometimes unwanted, attention from the establishment. Her relationship with Preston is especially fraught, for reasons that slowly become clear. Military veteran Frank Parrish arrives in Seattle only to find that a promised job has disappeared; unemployment is high, and prospects are not good for a one-armed engineer. A chance encounter with Preston brings him into the Benedict family circle, where his attraction to Margot does battle with Preston’s malicious mischief and his own ongoing post-war pain. Long-time family servant Blake is the bridge between many of the characters, and his story is in many ways the most poignant.
Campbell provides a strong narrative, incorporating realistic detail ranging from the social to the legislative to the medical; less successful are her elements of supernatural realism, which threaten the credulity of an otherwise solid tale.