In Late and Soon the beautiful Claire is an art specialist at Sotheby's Auction House, moving within an insular world of glamour, money, and prestige. At an art auction, she bumps into her ex-husband Peter, a dealer in antiques. Peter had left her a few years ago for Tobias, a video creator, but she now finds out that Peter has dumped Tobias for Sean, a NYPD detective.
Seeing Peter again, unleashes in Clare a flurry of unease. Until now she has had an enormous capacity for forgiveness, and even empathized with Peter's courage in coming out. She likes to think she feels sorrow rather than rage at Peter's treachery, "At what might have been, what she did not have."
When Frank, Peter's older brother comes to New York, Claire hesitatingly reconnects with him. Frank has just left the priesthood and wants to write a managerial book based on the writings of Teresa of Avila. He's convinced that her work in founding an order running a convent might apply to an entrepreneurial business world.
But Frank has also fallen into a meditative numbness, gliding further and further from a life of energy and compassion. He resents Peter, but feels as though he really should reach out to his brother, for they were alike, but it seemed that Peter was the one who had "become free."
Claire, Peter, Frank, Tobias and Sean discover a gradual unfurling of hidden promises, their lives fraught with conflict and desire, the fetters of loneliness weighing upon their moods. New friendships are forged; old animosities are conquered, the disparate elements becoming integrated into a whole.
The effect of memory is the thematic core of the novel. Claire's vision of Peter the past few years had been coloured through memory; Peter feels he's trying is to create a family and wants to reconnect with his brother; and Toby is also searching, he's happy for his parents, who have managed to conquer the disease of alcoholism, but he is increasingly suffering a "selfish regret."
With an almost Jamesian-like intensity, author, Robert J. Hughes blindsides the world of fine art, where multi-million dollar purchases are de rigor and where the moneyed, intellectual elite constantly gather. This quintet of characters are no doubt players, always on the move, never sure where they're going to end up.
Sean seems to give the novel its moral center. The outsider, and the maverick; the nature of Sean's work is to size up people, in terms of how they might act. An obvious interloper in the art world, Sean views the people in this world as artificial, as "hypocrisy wrapped up in a package of pretensions."
As Claire ruminates on her relationships and prepares for her major auction, she begins to see something familiar in the James Tissot painting, The Widow. She begins to feel confined in her little world of art and appraisals and symbols and icons. Claire has blundered through trust and lived through betrayal and only recently has she begun to think of herself as letting down her guard, yet fearful of it at the same time.
Startling and soulful, Late and Soon is full of richly drawn characters who are dragged back to the corpse of memory. Hughes' prose is complex and deeply provocative as it focuses on the individual struggles for connection in this moneyed, affluent and snobbish world. His incisive and acerbic observations on the wealthy make this novel an absolute pleasure to read.