Lindsay, a fact-checker for a popular magazine, meets her old friend Sarah in an inoffensive bistro. The two reminisce about their first wild, hard-partying year in New York. As Sarah talks about 2009 in dark, tenuous terms, Lindsay can't bring herself to talk about Edie and the night exactly ten years before, when her friend crafted a brief suicide note before pulling out a vintage gun.
For Sarah, "the gun stuff" just never made sense. Both agree there were lots of loose ends, what with Edie's debt and her depression, the suicide note on Edie's laptop and "the gun pressed to her temple." Everyone knew, for a time at least, that Edie and Lindsay were inseparable. What actually happened that night? Searching for answers, Lindsay turns to the photo tab of her old laptop and the slow process of unearthing all of her pictures from 2009.
Slipping through time, Bartz channels Lindsay's first-person voice back to the era when Sarah, Edie, best friend Kevin and twinkly-eyed Alex all live in a hipster hangout called Calhoun Lofts, a self-contained, secretive microcosm. Lindsay runs the eight-floor building on an otherwise undeveloped street in Bushwick, New Jersey. Rap music constantly pouring from speakers, Lindsay hits the second drink and thinks that this is everything she wanted her life in New York to be.
Right after Edie's suicide, Sarah goes totally "conspiracy theorist." Lindsay retains a lingering impression of their years as potent intoxicating fun, a montage of drunken nights. Lindsay turns to Tessa, a librarian-cum-technologist to help her figure out why Edie might have killed herself and to confirm that Lindsay had actually been up at a concert when the unthinkable happened. Bartz teases us with dream-like flashbacks of Edie and Lindsay. Edie's ex-boyfriend, Greg, provides an important clue, telling Lindsay it's horrible Edie died so young: "it also felt strange and thick and faraway," and Edie was like an "ephemeral redheaded fairy."
From Lloyd's insane ability to take good shots on a Razr flip phone to Lindsay's collection of emails, Bartz unfolds a friendship fraught with an uneven power dynamic. After months of passive-aggressive torment from Edie, Linsday makes a grand decision: "I'd extricate myself from this group and start over." As the puzzle gradually falls into place "like an intricately set-designed play," Lindsay recalls what really happened that night, "the flurry and racket and energy gust of a drunken location change." First, it's Tessa; now there's Damien and Alex. Everyone promises to help Lindsay, digging deeper into Edie's death and discovering her brief life has been flattened into a series of phone records, ER discharge papers, and a bloodless autopsy report. It all seems "to evaporate all at once" in front of Lindsay's eyes.
Bartz's "then and now" chapters reveal the details of Edie's final night, the drugs, music and dramas that plagued the gang at Calhoun Lofts. Perhaps Sarah and Kevin were right and Edie wasn't alone in the final moments of her life. Sometimes you can't prove anything. Sometimes love is precious, especially when Linsday is finally confronted with the "menacing other," the truth behind Edie's decade-old departure.