Dunstan Ramsey and his "lifelong friend and enemy, Percy Boyd Staunton," are both aged 10. It is a winter evening in the small Canadian village of Deptford, and Ramsey and Boy have quarrelled. In a rage, Boy throws a snowball with a stone in it and ...
hits the Baptist minister's pregnant wife by mistake. She becomes hysterical and later that night delivers, prematurely, a baby with birth defects. Even worse, she loses her mind. This secret guilt will bind Ramsey and Staunton together through their long lives. Boy, however, "would fight, lie, do anything rather than admit" he feels guilty, too, and so the subject remains unresolved between them right up until the night Boy's body is found in his car, in a lake, with a stone in his mouth.