When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she finds herself in a place both foreign and frightening. Henry's love of rural life is not shared by Laura, who struggles to raise their two young children in an isolated shotgun shack under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud.
As the Second World War shudders to an end, two young men return from Europe to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not and is sensitive to Laura's plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the farm, comes home from war with the shine of a hero, only to face far more dangerous battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. These two unlikely friends become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale.