Banks's novel is a fascinating multiple first person narrative depicting life in a small town in upstate New York in the wake of a terrible school bus accident in which numerous local children are killed. Hardly able to cope with the loss, their grieving parents are approached by a slick city lawyer who wants them to sue for damages. At first the parents are reluctant to do so, but eventually they are persuaded by the lawyer that filing a class action lawsuit would ease their minds and also be the right thing to do.
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As most of the children are dead, it depends on the few surviving witnesses to say the right thing now in court. In particular, it is 15 year-old Nichole Burnell, now paralysed from the waist down, whose deposition is all-important. However, she unexpectedly accuses Dolores Driscoll, the driver, of speeding and thus causing the accident. When she does so, all hopes of ever receiving money are thwarted. All the people involved know that Nichole is lying but cannot do anything about it. Only her father knows why, but he feels unable to reveal his daughter's motives.
Both the novel and the film succeed in capturing the atmosphere in a small town suddenly shaken by catastrophe. Whole families move away, fathers take to drinking, secret affairs are abruptly ended. Only the reader/viewer knows though that Mitchell Stephens, the lawyer, is himself a troubled man whose estranged, drug-addicted daughter informs him over the phone that she has just tested HIV positive. However, if one looks closely enough, there is always a glimmer of hope for the future somewhere around the corner.