In the year 1868, in Brooklyn, young Jacob Knickerbocker is torn between two loveshis wife Nelly and building a bridge across a treacherous river. Employed as Scribe to a famous bridge builder, he has no idea that his journey through hell is about to begin.
Jacob is thrust into a world of steam-powered engines and political corruption. After quicksand is found under the river bed, he takes it upon himself to study caissons disease as men descend nearly sixty feet beneath the surface. Despite the horrors of work, Jacob and Nelly are thrilled when she becomes pregnant. But Nelly and her newborn son die horribly in childbirth. Grief-stricken, Jacob creates an imaginary world, writing to his deceased wife in a secret journal. Drinking laudanum (opium), disillusioned and dissolute, he walks the streets of New York and disappears.
Will the disheartened Scribe return to his Brooklyn Bridge? How will his monumental endeavor find footing in those wild and turbulent waters?