A precocious teenager befriends a paroled felon who entices him to sacrifice everything he loves to day-trade illegally to save his family’s store.
In Caledonia, New Hampshire, mysterious Bernie Goff moves next door to a precocious teenager named John Wesley Hardin. Having been deserted by his mother, John shares his father Dan Hardin’s home with his father’s best friend Scott Harrington. Although Dan allows John to mow Bernie’s lawn, Dan and Scott warn John to keep clear of Bernie without telling him why. Bernie remains a stranger to everyone in the village except John.
John discovers that Bernie has been released from prison where he served time for masterminding an illegal Ponzi scheme. Against the wishes of Dan, Scott, and John’s aunt (Annette Laval), John visits Bernie’s home frequently. Bernie is fascinated by how bright John is, and he teaches John to trade options illegally. Bernie lives vicariously through John who wants to make enough money to save his family’s hardware store. John establishes a false trust, fabricates tax return filings, and earns enormous profits. He drifts further away from friends and family as he obsesses over making ever greater returns and taking on greater risks.
Tragedy strikes. Bernie dies. John continues secretly day-trading without Bernie to advise him. Shortly after Bernie’s death, John’s paternal grandfather, maternal grandparents, and the parents of Scott die in a sea-plane accident in Canada. John joins Dan, Scott, and his Aunt Annette in mourning. John’s obsession with day-trading is so great, however, that he continues secretly taking on enormous risks.
While skating on Lake Tremont, John falls through the ice. Dan drowns trying to save his son. A doctor has to amputate two of John’s toes, but John’s physical problems are dwarfed by his decaying mental state. After Dan is buried, Annette reveals to Scott and John that Scott is John’s birth father and Annette is John’s birth mother. Annette and her twin sister Trinette switched maternity of John to avoid the embarrassment of Annette having a child out of wedlock. The shock is too much for John. He rebels by running away to Florida.
Separated from his family, John works at a token night-shift job while he continues his aggressive day-trading habit. The markets continue to grind higher as John takes on increasingly bearish positions. He begins to lose his millions at a furious rate. Eventually, broke, lonely and depressed, he returns to Caledonia to reunite with Scott and Annette. His birth parents liquidate all the family’s holdings, persuade John to move away from Caledonia with them, and take up residence in a suburb of Alamogordo, New Mexico.
John leaves his obsessions behind and begins a new life in the desert. He mentors a young blind boy who helps wean John from greed and risk. John reclaims his role among family and new friends and he renounces his obsession with materialistic things to pursue the things that bring true satisfaction – honest work, friendship, and love.