Tucker Nash is a man in motion, unencumbered by the need for reflection or deep thought, whose only personal and professional successes in life are due to his marriage to Bellamy Ducharme. His personal mantra is, “It’s a great day to make money.” In summer, 1989, poised to earn a promotion to the highest level in his father-in-law’s company in Wilmington, Delaware, Tucker learns from Bellamy’s sister that Bellamy, who is suffering from depression, is contemplating divorce. Having lost his mother six months earlier, and his father in the Vietnam war, Tucker fears isolation, loss of his professional identity and status, and cannot conceive of life without his wife and children. He enters counseling with Bellamy at the urging of her psychiatrist.
During counseling, Tucker discovers a lost memory of perhaps the only pleasant time he ever spent with his father, on a fishing trip somewhere in coastal South Carolina. The psychiatrist recommends that Tucker and Bellamy take a weekend away together to try to locate the site. The timing conflicts with Tucker’s need to increase his sales in advance of the upcoming company annual meeting, where promotions are announced.
Bellamy’s sister becomes critically ill on the eve of the trip, and Tucker goes alone, with Bellamy’s blessing. Impatient (as always) to succeed quickly, Tucker abandons plans and ignores advice, resulting in car trouble that strands him in rural South Carolina, short of his destination. He meets Earl Pitney, a master mechanic, a man scarred by his childhood, personal tragedy, and the Vietnam War, whose only ambitions are to be a great mechanic and to enjoy a quiet, peaceful life. Earl’s guiding principle is to sit still when trouble arrives, that “there is a back side to a hurricane where the wind blows in the opposite direction.” Tucker’s quest to find the cabin on Cape Leatherneck Island threatens Earl’s serenity, because Earl has been haunted by the island’s secret for many years.
As Hurricane Hugo bears down on South Carolina, Tucker struggles to find his father’s memory while Earl struggles to solve the mystery of Tucker’s car. If Earl gets his way, Tucker may lose his family and his career. If Tucker gets his way, Earl may lose the peaceful life he has worked so hard to build. If Hugo gets its way, everyone may lose.