book begins on the campus of a church sponsored college and the antics of Ann Burton, a freshman. After writing a controversial
term paper, she’s brought before a church hearing chaired by an irritable elder, George Downs, but is found innocent
of wrongdoing. However, it’s clear that Ann will surface again.
the summer, Ann takes a job at a nearby Air Force base where she becomes involved with her boss, Ken Simms, a medically grounded
aviator and non-church member. Their relationship peaks when they go off to Las Vegas for Labor Day weekend and Ann is caught
sneaking back into the dorm by her parents who had come to Lakeview for a surprise visit.
is again called before a church court, chaired a second time by Elder Downs. A new church member, John Torino, is also called
to sit in on the hearing, recommended by his congregation leader, Victor Parker, who is the third panel member.
no one in the church knows Simms’ identity, he provides Ann with enough information to avoid conviction on several technicalities
and a threat to take legal action against the church and her parents.
The book then goes into “flashback” introducing John and Katherine
(Kate) Torino. They have just lost their first child to SIDS and Kate is struck with severe depression. During her recovery,
she’s paid an unexpected visit by two women missionaries of the American Church of the New Christ.
begins to investigate this faith and soon she and John are both taking lessons, and soon convert to this unique faith –
something of a combination of Mormonism, Catholicism, and Judaism. The conversion comes with reserved enthusiasm from their
families and increasing distance from non-church friends.
after conversion, they are fully immersed in their adopted church and begin building new relationships. After two years and
the birth of a second daughter, they are recruited by the church to move from their home in California to an area of eastern
Washington state that is the center of church influence. The couple jumps at the chance for a new adventure and within weeks
they find themselves in Lakeview, Washington and an entirely new culture.
members of the church, Lakeview is their “Zion” – a center of faith, fellowship, and unquestioned obedience
to church authority. However, at this early stage in their church membership, all the Torino’s can see is the good.
not using birth control, the Torino’s are unable to become pregnant and are referred to an Ob/Gyn specialist. He tells
the couple that Kate has a small, benign growth that can be removed with routine surgery. Kate undergoes the procedure and,
in a matter of months is pregnant with a son.
book then returns to the present.
the hearing, the Torinos and Parkers become close friends and the two women find they have more in common with each other
than most of the other women in their congregation. A lifelong friendship is kindled.
her second hearing, Ann and Ken drift apart and Ken soon finds himself attracted to Ruth Ryan, a married mother of two who
works part time in his office.
years before, Ruth was involved with one Peter Goodman, a young enlisted man at the base. When she became pregnant and Goodman
refused to marry her, he was taken into custody by the local sheriff on a false arrest and later found in his cell, the hanging
victim of a “suicide.”
the death of Pete Goodman, Ruth’s congregation leader, Tom Simpson, and Ruth’s parents arrange for her to marry
a recently returned missionary, Jeff Ryan. As an obedient son of the faith Jeff was ready to perform his respectable duty
to provide a name for Ruth’s child. As an unwed pregnant teenager in a closed society, Ruth has no way out.
a hurried wedding, the couple embarks on a tumultuous first couple of years that find Ruth giving birth to Goodman’s
child then unexpectedly pregnant a second time with Jeff’s child. In the midst of a deep depression, she gives into
church pressure and agrees to the faith’s bonding ceremony, a ritual that members believe joins a couple for eternity.
a chance encounter with a girlfriend from high school, Ruth takes a part time job at the airbase in the personnel office.
She and Ken Simms cross paths and, after making clear her attraction to him, the couple arranges to sneak off for a long weekend
Ruth is still taking anti-depressants and, with the drinking she does while with Ken, she accidentally drowns in the hotel
room hot tub while Ken is in the casino.
community is stunned by Ruth’s death and church leaders clamor for Ken’s military court martial or state criminal
prosecution. Ken is contacted by Ann Burton who, with her knowledge of local politics and church organization, is able to
provide Ken with enough material to avoid criminal or civil legal action. A week after Ruth’s death, he separates from
the military and leaves the local area.
breaking off her relationship with Ken, Ann had thrown herself into her studies with an emphasis on finding flaws with the
church and its hold over the community. Her efforts culminate in an essay, titled “Time to Fire God,” that proposes
choosing other options for the conventional Christian deity; she submits the essay for her class and sends a copy to an alternative
newspaper in Seattle. She’s quickly called before a court hearing for heresy. Since the essay was publicly published,
the hearing was open to all church members.
Torino is called to sit as a non-voting observer in the proceedings. Here he meets Bob Osborne, another convert from California.
Bob and his wife, Pat, are due to move into their permanent residence near the Torinos.
the severity of the charges against Ann, the outcome is a foregone conclusion but not before she gives a spirited defense
of her position. She is excommunicated from the faith but permitted to finish out the school year. She leaves within three
days of her last final and is never heard from again.
his return home, John and Kate discuss the proceedings as well as his meeting Bob Osborne. The Torinos decided to invite the
new arrivals, both school administrators, for dinner.
two couples hit it off well and Kate mentions that Pat might like to get together with her and Janet. The three women bond
quickly and begin to use their education and positions in the community to begin influencing church social policies. The three
couples soon become close friends. While Janet sincerely values the friendship of the other two women, she also has an unspoken
agenda – her goal to become the first woman member of the church’s elders council.
encouragement from Janet, Kate begins the process to become a fully credentialed elementary teacher. Both women are certain
that Kate can have a greater influence in the community by spending more time outside the role of homemaker.
after Kate begins her student teaching, Janet is presented with the opportunity to become the first woman to sit as a non-voting
observer in a church morals trial.
case concerns a woman named Deb Adams who, much to the church community’s disapproval, had left Lakeview shortly after
high school to pursue a successful and highly publicized career as a jazz vocalist. Since leaving Lakeview, Deb had been involved
with drugs and had required rehab treatment, and, perhaps worst of all, had cohabitated with and married an African-American
man who subsequently died of a drug overdose. Later, she again offended church authorities by moving in with her Jewish accountant.
When she returned to Lakeview to make funeral and estate arrangements for her parents who had died in an auto mishap, she
was called before church authorities.
has no desire to continue her church membership and submits herself for voluntary excommunication. But not before Janet has
the chance to make an impassioned and long-remembered appeal to Deb to maintain her church membership. The young woman refuses
and shortly thereafter departs Lakeview, never to return.
outcome of Deb’s hearing has a sobering effect on Kate, Janet, and Pat with the two converts questioning what they perceive
to be the church’s intrusion into a person’s private life. Janet informs them of something they hadn’t been
told during their conversation – that members of the church assume their lives to be open to constant scrutiny. The
underlying philosophy is that if you wanted privacy, you must be hiding something. Having this topic out in the open introduces
a new wrinkle into all the women’s attitudes toward the church.
was during this time that Pat let her two friends know that she and Bob are thinking about taking in a foster child since
their two are grown and still living in the family residence in California. Janet puts the Osborne’s in touch with a
church sponsored program that places Native American children in church homes. In short order, an eight-year-old girl named
Lucy comes to live with the Osbornes.
first month or so with Lucy go well but behavioral problems, including violent outbursts, soon surface and Lucy is placed
on medication while physical and psychiatric tests are conducted. Before the results are available, Lucy accidentally sets
fire to a storage shed in the back yard. There are no injuries or damage to major structures, but the Osbornes have had their
fill of the child’s behavior and insist that the church return her to her parents. Church authorities refuse stating
that the couple agreed to take Lucy for the school year and she was their responsibility and problem until that time.
situation becomes ugly to the point that Bob Osborne threatens to return Lucy home on his own, leave the church, and move
back to California. Church authorities acquiesce and return Lucy to her parents. However, they respond by telling the Osbornes
that if they don’t sell their California home within three months and commit themselves more fully to the local community,
they will be excommunicated. This action puts all three couples under great stress.
the Osborne’s are contemplating their next move, the church is rocked by a major incident. Stan Case is the youngest
member of his family and the only child who has not yet been on a church mission – something his father insists upon.
Because of his rebellious attitude and refusal to give up his practice of masturbation, Stan is turned down for missionary
work and his father is livid.
week following Stan’s rejection, he goes to the top of the church office building in downtown Lakeview and jumps to
his death in an act of desperation and defiance that rocks the community.
events calm in the following weeks, things then seem to take a more positive turn for the three families. With the unexpected
death of a city councilman, Janet is appointed to take his place. She sees this as an ideal opportunity to increase her influence
in the community and perhaps more quickly achieve her goal as the first woman elder in the church.
is given the opportunity to interview an engaged couple concerning their wedding and bonding ceremony. Since both the prospective
bride and groom are grandchildren of church elders, their ability to pass an interview is taken for granted.
this is not the case and during the bride’s interview, Karen Downs reveals that she and her fiancé have been sexually
active for the past three months and she’s over a month pregnant. John contacts Victor and the two men decide they have
no choice but to deny a bonding recommendation. The couple is devastated, doubly so because of their backgrounds and everyone’s
expectations of them.
men are taken by surprise when, two weeks later, they find that the couple has been married and bonded within the church in
a ceremony outside Lakeview. It seems that one or both of the grandfathers arranged for a false out-of-state civil marriage
license which made the couple’s sexual activity acceptable to the church.
evening when the Osbornes are visiting the Torinos, John brings up the subject of the fraudulent bonding ceremony. The Osbornes
haven’t yet resolved the issue of their house in California and this revelation seals their decision to leave the church
and return home. The next day, a “For Sale” sign is on their lawn.
the church won’t stand idly by while two converts turn their back on the faith and leave the community. Elder Downs
makes a call to Sheriff Manson and a few days later the Osbornes are dead and their house burned to the ground.
Torinos and Parkers are devastated – not only are two good friends dead, but Janet Parker has lost a major ally in her
plans to increase the role of women in the faith.
Janet’s attentions and energies are diverted from personal loss when a mishap at the local military base sends toxic
fumes into town. She begins to lead a movement to reduce activities at the base with the possibility of closing the facility
entirely. This brings her into conflict with church, military, and business leaders who bring professional pressure on her
events begin to tear at the unseen fragility of the Parker marriage and culminate when Victor commits suicide in jail after
being arrested for public sex acts with another man.
the aftermath, the church offers to keep the circumstances surrounding Victor’s death a secret if Janet agrees to resign
from the city council and cease her political activities. She agrees and returns to church-based research at the local college.
Torino becomes the congregation priest much to the chagrin of Elder Downs. Downs fabricates a case of supposed adultery against
John when he’s followed and photographed with a woman representative from one of the airlines serving Lakeview airport.
John successfully challenges Downs’ fabrications in church court but is nonetheless relieved of his church position.
Torino finds he actually welcomes this new-found freedom.
about the same time, while out shopping, Kate runs into one of the women missionaries who helped her convert to the faith.
The former missionary introduces her husband and toddler, and it occurs to Kate that this woman had indicated during the lessons
that she was a widow who had also lost a child. Kate asks the woman about all this and the woman confesses she lied to Kate
as a means of her to listen to the conversion lessons.
Kate is stunned and takes the matter up with Janet Parker. With her work at
the college and access to church records, Janet tells Kate she’ll do some research on missionary conduct.
few days later, Janet contacts Kate and arranges for an evening with the Torinos. Her discoveries in the church records are
most disturbing – not only does the church engage in extensive deception as part of its missionary effort but the primary
reason for bringing converts to Lakeview is to increase the diversity of the local gene pool. There had become excessive inbreeding
within the church community and genetic anomalies were occurring at an alarming rate. This increase of genetic diversity included
tampering with the water supply in convert rental homes so women would not conceive. When couples sought reproductive counseling,
sperm was taken from men and women underwent surgery for “tumors” –surgeries that were a ruse to gather
eggs to implant in local church women.
his removal as congregation priest and neighbors beginning to distance themselves, the Torinos know that they must leave Lakeview
quickly and quietly. Janet agrees to help them and compiles as much incriminating evidence against the church as possible
as her own insurance against violence.
short time later, the Torinos are able to leave town and not a moment too soon; the night after they left, Mason burns their
a week, Janet approaches Elder Downs with her evidence and a list of demands concerning her safe departure from Lakeview.
Within a month, she leaves both Lakeview and the church.
The story concludes with a single chapter set a year later with Kate Torino
receiving a letter from Janet after a long silence and finishes with Kate approaching a neighbor who had been recently visited
by church missionaries and telling the neighbor: “Well, if you have a little
time, I know a bit about their church. I have some stories you might find interesting …”