This is a story about a small town; like all stories about small towns, the secret lives of the inhabitants are more sordid than anyone would care to admit. Lively's strength comes from her exploration of these secrets, the deft way she comments on class, gender, and education. Clare Paling, the newest resident of Laddenham, is an avowed atheist who loves the language of the King James Bible; her passion for art spurs her to be part of a committee focused on restoring the squat local church. The challenge of the committee--to find a part of the church's history that would be cheerful enough to reenact--reflects the struggles of each character. The novel ends with a sting, and I was surprised to find myself in tears.