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Professor Roger Meredith and his wife, Libby, journey to rural Tennessee, where Roger hopes to spend his sabbatical writing a law text. Arriving on a snowy winter night, the middle-aged couple stops for the key to their rented house at the home of farmer-mechanic Will Cade, Cade's loquacious wife, and their profligate son, Boy. The earthy Will is attracted to the reserved Libby and courts her, offering blunt compliments and a gift of baby goats. The romance, however, is aborted by Will's and Libby's respective progeny. The Merediths' daughter, Ellen, arrives unexpectedly, announcing her acceptance by Harvard Law School and demanding that Libby return to care for grandson Bucky. Shortly after Libby's refusal, she is molested by drunken Boy Cade but rescued by Will, who accidentally kills his son. The disillusioned Merediths return to the city, Libby having abandoned her romantic hopes, Roger his literary ambitions.