Peter leaves the security of his New England home base and the powerful Quincy family (that virtually adopted him at 12 after his father left) to take on the challenge of working for a brilliant renegade CEO in a small town in the Midwest centered around a lake. He soon becomes involved with Helen, a young woman engaged in building a sailboat to make a trip around the world. Meanwhile, though favored and befriended by the CEO, he uncovers disturbing policies and practices at the company he works for. His concerns come to a head when the CEO aggressively goes after the old family company owned by his adoptive family. Torn between his ambition, job responsibilities, and new-found bond with the CEO, on the one hand, and his long-term, deep loyalty to the Quincy family, on the other, he is forced to face issues such as his troubled relationship with the father who abandoned him and whether to hold Helen back from her lifelong dream.
In the late 1960’s, Sydney, a 16-year-old girl from a prominent Philadelphia family, finds herself pregnant. Her appalled parents arrange for her “to study painting” in Paris and for the child to be adopted. Both parents are killed in a car crash just before the birth, and Sydney persuades the lawyer to let her keep the baby. Having inherited some money, Sydney decides to remain in Paris, where she raises young Derek in a spontaneous, unconventional, but loving manner, living in hotels. Despite her many lovers, she devotes every morning to her son and together they undertake minor adventures throughout the city, from sewers to cemeteries, palaces to bookstores, discovering Paris together as they go. When breast cancer threatens Sydney’s life, it puts Derek’s bizarre upbringing to the test and raises the question of who his father is and who could possibly replace his mother.
Elaine and Laura, who have known each other since college, meet annually at Elaine’s vast estate in England, inherited by her husband, Lord Burton, from his father. Their children have grown up among the jet set and under the lenses of the paparazzi. Fearing a disastrous first experience appearing in print, Elaine persuades Laura to provide her son Nicky with a sexual initiation, but immediately afterward Laura finds out that Nicky is actually jaded and cynical. This almost destroys her relationship with Elaine, yet Laura goes to Elaine's side when she is dying of cancer. Lord Burton, widowed and distraught, proposes to the unhappily married Laura and she leaves her husband and moves to England for him. But she finds that Lord Burton is wedded not just to his role in the House of Lords, but to the upkeep and care of his family property and is emotionally impenetrable. Laura resorts to a number of tactics to try to understand and break through to him, but only when she is severely injured is he finally able to express his genuine love and caring. When a new son is born to them, Lord Burton leaves Parliament and turns the estate over to Nicky.
Janice Brenner nurses her son Todd through three years of severe illness, only to find that her husband is leaving her and that she herself has cancer. The combination sends her into a tailspin and ongoing medical problems make it hard for her to pull out of her decline. Meanwhile, the husband has poisoned the air with lies about her and she finds herself abandoned by most of her former friends. Kept going by the richness of her relationship with her two sons and her creative work, she searches for ways to recover. A trip with her sons to Istanbul finally spurs her to rebuild her life. She is able to forgive and win back some of the people who turned on her and to forget the rest. Though her now ex-husband never stops trying to hurt her, she finally finds success in her work and a healthy relationship with a man she has known since high school.
Janine Newland relates the story of her mother, Julia, a distinguished composer, who gradually and mysteriously loses her ability to compose music and even to connect with other people and, finally, the will to live. After Julia’s death, Janine continually reevaluates the cause of her mother’s decline as ever-new information and insights come to light. Pressured to take over her father’s hat business on his death, she decides to sell the company and return to studying piano. Her mother’s agent, Max, convinces the famous pianist Jonathan Merton to take her on as a student in London. Though she makes rapid progress, her relationship with Merton grows increasingly complicated and strained. It is he that finally resolves the mystery of her mother’s decline.
A collection of short stories exploring turning points in people’s lives – romantic, professional, financial, sexual, even impending death – and the inner resources they are able to summon to cope with them.
In poems both lyrical and incisive, the book examines questions of hierarchy from the human to the plant kingdom, while it encompasses issues of loss and pain, attraction and repulsion, belonging and fitting in. It looks at ways we both lose and give up our pasts and explores the powers that nature exerts over us and our powers over it.