Contemporary novel by David Adams Richards, and winner of the Giller Prize.
The plot is narrated by Lyle Henderson, a rapidly aging child living down the supposed sins of his father, and focuses on his family. His father Sydney, after suffering through more by age 12 than most people go through in a lifetime, pushes a childhood friend off the roof of their church. He swears to god that he would never knowingly hurt anyone ever again if the kid survived. Not only did he survive, he was completely unhurt, and Sydney sticks to his promise. The problem is that the community around him sees this faith (as well as his intellectualism - he reads constantly while practically everyone else is illiterate or close to it) as weakness and ruthlessly exploits him. As a result his family remains dirt poor. Sydney sees it as their lot in life; Lyle has other ideas.
The story takes place in the backwoods of New Brunswick, Canada, a land closer to Alabama than anywhere else, culturally speaking. That's the amazing thing - reading the book I found myself slipping into thinking the story took place in some remote time full of settlers and rednecks and business barons. It's actually contemporary, and Richards deftly drops in reminders of this every once in a while just to keep us current.
The novel is a fable of morality versus guile. Just when I though things couldn't possibly get any worse, they do. The family's situation got worse and worse and worse, while I eagerly flipped pages waiting for the upswing.
Why was I surprised that there wasn't much of one.
But then why was it so enthralling? I think it's because even the horrible characters are entertaining to read and well developed - there is no one source of evil, it seems to ooze up from the ground infecting everyone except this one family. The plot it thick with events that constantly surprise in interesting ways and the cast diverse enough to hate everybody in it, even our protagonists, to an equal degree.