The pole shift has happened and the waters are rising several hundred feet due to melting poles and glaciers and the heating of the ocean bottom from friction during the crust shift. The pole shift itself is not discussed but implied as a kind of disaster that has occurred due to the devastation the survivors are dealing with. The rising sea level is happening slowly but steadily, forcing survivors to relocate when they discover the flood is not receding. Finegan Fine has found a niche in this new world by running a trading boat along the new coastline and up and down ever broadening rivers. A former military contractor, Finegan is sharp and well educated but has been afflicted all his life with alcoholic tendencies. He has a big heart and has found he can often fix a problem that is vexing others. Joey, a child who has been separated from his family by the rising water, joins Finegan when Finegan agrees to take him home. Joey's grandpa has died, and burial at sea is arranged when Joey finds his family home flooded and deserted. Barney, a three-legged dog who has lost a rear leg to a shark, is a constant companion on the houseboat, as the threesome meet an endless stream of survivors.
The main theme is the sociological adaptation of the populace to the lack of rescue and rising waters after the cataclysms. Finegan meets survivors from all walks of
life: the very wealthy who expected to survive in their well stocked enclaves, the politically connected who expected rescue on demand, the wealthy who thought
their bankroll would buy them comfort, suburbanites unprepared to be self sustaining, those who stubbornly refused to leave their cities and towns and steadily
starve to death, families who are separated from each other, rural folk familiar with local produce, immigrants caught a long way from home, pedophiles peddlers
selling children, the handicapped who take hardship in stride, military men cut off from their commanders, former politicians trying to establish a continuity of
government, those who turn from their responsibilities and those who raise orphans and care for the aged, teens without supervision, the deluded who think the
good times will return, and those creating slave labor camps.
A second theme is the devastation itself, which is widespread. Florida is under water, trapping those who lingered too long. Coastal subdivisions and river front towns are steadily flooded, often forcing people to repeatedly relocate. Satellites have been torn from the sky, so communications are by short wave radio at best. Rescue is simply not forthcoming. A third theme is survival techniques. Survivors fish and raise sheep and goats for milk and meat. They garden and harvest from fruit and nut trees. The adapt by eating atypical but highly nutritious foods such as kudzu and pumpkin leaves and rats. They learn to navigate on water and by using plastic bottles as floatation devices. They live in makeshift shacks and tents. Electricity is generated from windmills or cranks and powers car headlights. Barter is the mode and the dollar is dead. A fourth theme is how people react to the crisis - by rising to the challenge and helping one another or by looting and hoarding. Finegan instinctively reacts to these two groups differently. Survivors are on their own and must rely on resourcefulness and cooperation with others for survival. Those that mistreat others find themselves without supplies or friends in due time.