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On a scorching, dusty road in south-central Illinois in the late 1930s, Doc finds Cully, eleven, running from his fathers death in the fields. He takes Cully in, as he had taken in other stray creatures, and teaches him the life of a rural veterinarian. Thus the boy gains an understanding that death, a commonplace in natures cycle, reaches animals and people, young and old, by accident or intent. One day a letter from Connecticut, three-months delayed, arrives for the boy Cully from the mother who had abandoned him two years earlier. The letter, an old out-of-tune piano, a curling photograph, and some names buried deep in his vanished youth draw Doc with Cully eastward on the National Road, Cully toward his future and Doc toward his forgotten youth. With quiet, poetic force, the journal-told story emerges like the gradual focusing of an old stereopticon, the two pictures blending to reveal an unsuspected three-dimensional depth as the lost boy searches for his mother and Doc tries to piece together a repressed and catastrophic past. Cully and Docs odyssey of discovery is steeped in knowledge of and love for the land across which they journey. It is a true American myth, yet it reverberates with echoes of the Arthurian legend, of Henry Hudson, of the orphan trains, of traumatic conflagrations, and of the dying rooms where waifs bodies are sold for cash. The dramatic and surprising ending is at once a tearful defeat and a smile-producing victory.