Fall River, Massachusetts is the setting for this novel that is as much about the town as it is about its people. The book opens in the years preceding World War I, when Fall River was the textile capital of the country, and President Taft made an appearance at the Cotton Centennial celebration.
Joseph Bartlett is the owner of one of the mills in town and, unlike many of the other mill owners, he is pro-union and believes in fair labor practices. Unbeknownst to Joseph, as the cotton celebration is going on, his son assaults a woman and his wife takes her last breath, both events which will have reverberating effects for years. The book follows Joseph as he navigates family and work challenges over the years.
Other characters play a significant role in Joseph’s life, including the Sheehan family, whose lives are intertwined with the Bartlett family in ways that no one yet knows; and Sarah Strong, a suffragist whose mother died in the textile mills. The story weaves back and forth in time to when Joseph and his family were younger and the circumstances which led him to become a mill owner. It also follows his children to young adulthood and explores why and how they made the choices they made.
The book explores working-class America and the vast divide between employer and employee. It is also about secrets, family, and dreams and expectations. Parts of the book are a bit wordy, and a few storylines do not seem to advance the plot. Still, it is clear that the author engaged in in-depth historical research, as it evokes the feel of the mill town from a century ago and provides the reader with interesting context.