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Ben lost his father at a very young age. As a result, he and his mother had to move in with his uncle Henry, who lived on a farm in Muskoka. Mostly, while Ben is growing up he must tend and toil away doing farm chores with Henry. The only pleasure Henry has in life is his violin. Yet sadly, he must learn to play himself because there is no violin teacher around for miles.
One day, Ben meets Ruth Chapman, an old widow who has just bought the island on the lake beside Ben's barn. She pays him and Henry to fix up the cottage in the centre of the island. Ruth is unlike anyone Ben has ever met before. She is rich, smokes two packs of cigarettes per day, loves classical music and can hold her own against any man. As Ben spends more time with Ruth, the more he begins to desire life away from Muskoka. He begins thinking about Toronto, where Ruth says there is an abundance of violin teachers.
After a party at Ruth's where Ben was invited to help, she begins to mysteriously ignore him. Ben is greatly saddened and confused by this. He feels as though he revealed to much of himself personally to her while at the party.They do not have a real conversation again until she leaves the cottage at the end of summer. She says goodbye to Ben claiming "You know, I never had a son. And I had no idea before how sorry I am about that".
In the weeks after Ruth's departure, Ben had grown increasingly upset with the state of his life. One night, he and his uncle Henry are returning from a day's work at a hotel they are renovating. He and Henry have never had a good relationship. Henry chooses not to leave the island and Ben feels chained to it, leaving rise to resentment between them. They are leaving for home on the boat Waome, when it capsizes due to a powerful squall. Ben manages swim out to the nearby island safely, but unfornutately could not save Henry. He is immersed in sadness after death but there is a small light of hope. Ben's mother decides to sell the farm and move her and her son to Toronto. Ben leaves the farm hurt over the death of his uncle, but happy over the prospect of a new future.
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