After losing his beloved wife four months earlier, Luke Harrison plans to end his tormented lie by walking into the surf at the southern end of Ocracoke Island. But retiree Hank Kilgo has a different plan for the young Luke. After rescuing Luke from drowning, Hank brings him home to his wife Cora. Cora sees her own son in Luke and immediately starts to rekindle Luke's will to live.
Over the next two years, Luke comes to know the permanent residents as well as the seasonal workers who staff the local bars, restaurants, and summer attractions during Ocracoke's tourist season. As he gets to know the people of Ocracoke, he is drawn to their strong sense of community and admires their close ties to nature. His newfound friends quickly expose him to all the local entertainment options, which range from bonfires on the beach at night and day trips to the Vera Cruz sandbar to clamming, scalloping, and fishing. He also learns about the ling history of the island as well as the current controversies that dominate local politics.
As time passes, the magic of Ocracoke and its people begin to heal Luke's wounds. He finally arrives at a point in his life where he realizes that he has been given a second chance at life and vows to start his life anew.