Dave tells the story of the abuse he endures as a child at the hands of his alcoholic mother. He goes from being a son who seems loved and who does well in school to one who is targeted for attack by his mother. As the years pass, the abuse gets worse, and Dave becomes more isolated. He suffers through terrible physical abuse. Others notice the marks on his body, yet no one helps him—not family, teachers, or school officials. However, he exhibits a strength of spirit and a persistent will to survive despite being treated as a slave and being dehumanized by his mother. He learns strategies for coping with his hunger and the abuse. Eventually he is saved by a police officer and taken away. He survives his ordeal and goes on to become a good man and a good father.
Mother initially appears to love her children and treat them well. She takes good care of herself, her home, and her family. However, alcoholism gains an increasing hold on her life and her behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and sadistic. Her discipline becomes abusive toward Dave, who is her primary target. She controls Dave through abuse, but she also controls her husband and the other children. Everyone seeks to avoid conflict with her, and this leaves Dave alone to suffer her abuse.
Dave shares a special bond with his father and Dave looks up to him as a hero. However, as the abuse increases, Dave's father chooses escape from conflict over his son's well-being. Initially, Dave's father attempts to defuse the conflict by getting his wife drunk, an action that sometimes backfires, making matters worse. Later, Dave's father escapes by turning to alcohol and staying out of the home.