When Elizabeth Dembrowski's husband, Eddie, was laid off from his job at the Northland Paper Company, her family began a financial and emotional downward spiral. Against Eddie's wishes, Elizabeth acquired a seasonal job at their local pickle factory, owned by her old high school friend, Clayton Landers. That summer, the Dembrowski's daughters, Carol Jean, Mince, and Nona, were left to take care of their home and the family dog, Lucky.
Most days, Eddie spent his time on the picket line, and every day he returned home drunk and angry. When the union learned the mill had misappropriated their Unemployment Compensation funds, life became increasingly difficult for the workers and their families. The chances of the mill reopening were diminished when the governor's representative failed to make good on promises made to the union. Years of questionable environmental and business practices by the mill were troubling.
In the midst of the economic turmoil, the health of Nona, Elizabeth's youngest daughter, was deteriorating. Born with a congenital hearth defect, Nona's strength and stamina were lessened by the poor air and water quality of their town. In desperation, Elizabeth struggled to keep Nona healthy and to protect Carol Jean and Mince from Eddie's drunken, abusive, and violent behavior.
Elizabeth's growing awareness of the unusual number of deaths in her community caused her to begin a campaign to prove the mill's responsibility for the area's deadly conditions. Many objected to her investigations, especially those in charge at Northland. Eddie, with his father, Jasper, and friend, Art, broke into the mill searching for proof of the money owed the workers. When the men were caught, Eddie faced years in prison.
Throughout the long, dry summer, Elizabeth researched discrepancies in the causes of deaths reported, and despite several threats and attacks on her and her family, she was not deterred. With the support of her friend, Madeira, and her boss, Clayton, Elizabeth decided to search Northland herself. That hot, sultry night, the fate of Elizabeth, Eddie, and the entire town came to a final, deadly conclusion.