Edward Mason is a man who seeks success and money in that order. He is not content to make a comfortable living. He wants to take risks, be rewarded for them, and recieve fame and fortune as a result. Given those parameters, he is remarkably likable, and is a good example of just how complicated people are. He is a very flawed but entirely three dimensional character. Part of why we like him is his wife Edith--she supports him unconditionally and when he fails, as he just has when the novel opens, she does not berate him, or mourn her fate. She faces his next challenge at his side. In many ways he has not been a good husband to her--he has failed to support her and he has cheated on her. Yet she soldiers on with him. They have two sons--Sebastian the elder, who does not like or understand his father, and Simon the younger, who adores his father above all else.
When the novel opens it is 1936 and the Masons are sailing across the ocean from Manchester, England to the eastern shore of Baltimore. Edward has inherited a dairy farm from an aunt, and Edith's father has given him an ultimatum--make a success of it in a year's time, or his marriage to Edith is over. It says everything about Edward that he is traveling first class, at his father-in-law's expense and he is acting like it is of his own doing. The farm's estate house is called 'Mason's Retreat'--which could have one of two meanings: either it is a palacial home of luxury and leisure, or it is the place that one retreats to out of shame and defeat.
Edward seems to have chosen the later--he immediately makes a mess of the farm, but it is a place that is fertile in it's own right and they live better than they have in years. Sebastian loves the farm and the land and he finds his place in life there, as does Edith. Not so Edward--when he has a chance to revivie his factory in England he grabs the chance, and is for once, very successful. As is the case in many a family tragedy, that is unfortunately the beginning of the end. A wonderful story is well told here.