An enormously powerful tornado approaches Maple Springs, Missouri in July 2003, ready to roil the lives of everyone in the small town. What Mother Nature doesn’t know is that existing in this dying southern town is so miserable that some residents might find total destruction an appealing prospect.
Dancer Stonemason, the town’s failed hero, is reluctantly shutting down his son Clayton’s business, the one in which they’d harmoniously worked together for a decade. But Clayton died several months earlier in a single-vehicle crash, leaving Dancer with unremitting grief and the remnants of what seemed like a promising vocation.
Wayne Mesirow’s National Guard unit has just returned from Iraq, and he’s still struggling with the death of his best friend, Sanjay, better known as Sonny, who drowned in the Tigris River during a construction project. It doesn’t help that his wife, Anita, is divorcing him as part of a self-improvement plan that includes breast implants, tight clothes, and a rich new boyfriend twice her age. Nor does he achieve the peace and forgiveness he seeks from Sonny’s father — Madman Patel, the Electronics King of Joplin — who hurls insults and physically attacks him in the middle of a new store while violently rejecting Wayne’s clumsy effort to present Sonny’s Sig Sauer as a final gift. His last hope is joining the locally renowned band that recruited him just before he shipped off to Iraq, unwilling to trade his dream of rock stardom for a humdrum life in an everyday job.
Jim Stonemason, Dancer’s ever-dependable and successful auto dealership owner son, holds on tightly to the biggest secret and honor of his career, as well as the belief that his father never valued him as much as his late brother. He plans to put his daughter and best salesperson, Kayla, in charge of the project, but has no idea she and her accountant fiancé, Barry, have decidedly different plans.
Ted Landis’ mission in life is to ruin what little is left of Maple Springs’ downtown. After building a mall on its outskirts ironically named after his late ex-wife, whose legacy was her affair with Dancer Stonemason’s wife, he now pursues Anita Mesirow as his latest trophy, the arm candy to escort through his finest development, a steamboat casino and upscale resort on the Caledonia River that will rival the Redneck Riviera and turn Howell County, Missouri into a luxury vacation destination.
On the night that Landis plans to debut his resort, a squall that was predicted to veer away from the town turns into a thunderstorm spawning a monstrous tornado onto Maple Springs. Some will find new strength and inspiration in its cyclical destruction, while others find the freedom to let go of the burden of survival. The whirling winds alter nearly everything in town, and when the twister finally passes, life — and lives — are changed beyond recognition, with the line between existence and exit blurred beyond recognition.