At center: Marshall Lockard, who teaches English at a small New England college, and his wife, Sonja, a real estate broker in the college town. As the novel opens, Marshall has become increasingly remote, walling himself off from his students by his ironic tone and from his wife by his air of detachment. The marriage has reached a danger point: Sonja is playing at having an affair with her boss; Marshall is flirting with a student. And they are about to lose the one older person who means anything to them - Marshall's stepmother, Evie, who is Sonja's closest friend, and who perhaps holds the key to Marshall's state of mind. Into this unsettled situation comes one of Marshall's colleagues, trailing clouds of trouble - an infuriated wife, a student accusing him of rape. He sets off a chain of explosions that catapults Marshall and Sonja out of the semi-uncomfortable trajectory of their lives into a profound reexamination of their marriage and themselves.
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