It’s another summer in Glen Allan, Mississippi for fourteen-year-old Robbie Hendrick. His wayward Mother has run off again fearing a mental breakdown and he’s left with the responsibility of caring for his younger, half-brother Fess. But he’s as hopeful as ever that she’ll get better and his dream of a family will be realized this year. In the meantime, Robbie and Fess find ways to burn the days together. They visit a cotton field and, with their homemade accoutrements, battle invisible soldiers imagined from a children’s book Fess owns. They swim the granite quarry, diving deep to find the coins tossed in as wishes, and use their pilferage to buy colas and sandwiches. They do the things brothers do in the summer. Days they are loud and reckless. Nights their bond is quiet and deep.
When his brother Lucas returns home, Robbie can sense the beginnings of a family. Ten years older than Robbie, Lucas was once a stand-out athlete at the local high school, his heroics still talked about within the community. Robbie looks up to Lucas. Meanwhile, postcards have begun to arrive from their Mother, postcards promising that she’s better, that she’ll return soon.
The arrival of Lucas, though, drives an unexpected wedge between the once inseparable Robbie and Fess. Days spent together in cotton fields, ice-cream shacks and quarries of Glen Allan, are now spent alone; Robbie implored by Lucas to earn an income working at the local gas stop and Fess left to fend for himself at the ramshackle home.
Nights are reserved for Robbie and Lucas. They venture into town where the cynical Lucas offers up his various philosophies on life, women, their absent Mother and the wide gap between what he might have been and what he is. Robbie listens the way younger brothers listen to older brothers.
In time, though, Robbie discovers Lucas isn’t the older brother he always imagined he was. Unemployed and without prospects, Lucas is a parasite. His days are spent flirting with married or pathetic women in the hopes that they’ll support his idle lifestyle. And most do fall under the spell of his charm and virility. When they don’t, it’s Robbie he sends into town to find work and pay. It’s Robbie whom he chooses to support him. For the family (or his dream of one) Robbie works and earns. Finally, though, Lucas crosses the line when he breaks the law and threatens Fess. It’s here that Robbie must choose between his two brothers.
Now the postcards from his Mother have stopped arriving.
As the deep days and nights pass without a return, the ever-present threat of social services begins to close in on the brothers as clues of their absent supervision leak. Robbie’s dream of a family begins to dim slowly and his soul goes quiet.
But when he must face the fact that he may just lose the only family he’s ever known – Fess – he rages against that reality in a savagely fierce and loyal way that epitomizes his character. His fight against a life without family is the heroic, extraordinarily beautiful spirit of The Dynamiter.