Property speculator Harley Mann begins recording his life story onto a reel-to-reel machine, reflecting on his youth in the early twentieth century. He recounts that after his father’s sudden death, his family migrated down to Florida to join a Shaker colony. Led by Elder John, a generous man with a mysterious past, the colony devoted itself to labor, faith, and charity, rejecting all temptations that lay beyond the property. Though this way of life initially saved Harley and his family from complete ruin, when Harley began falling in love with Sadie Pratt, a consumptive patient living on the grounds, his loyalty to the Shakers and their conservative worldview grew strained and, ultimately, broke.
As Harley dictates his story across more than half a century—meditating on youth, Florida’s everchanging landscape, and the search for an American utopia—the truth about Sadie, Elder John, and the Shakers comes to light, clarifying the past and present alike. With an expert eye and stunning vision, Russell Banks delivers a wholly captivating portrait of a man navigating Americana and the passage of time.