In search of a more benevolent lifestyle than the hectic pace of New York City, Tim Reinhart retreats to the French countryside, purchasing a small piece of land with a quaint, tiny farmhouse as his living quarters.
With the emotional support of his parents and sister, Tim describes the simplicity of his pastoral days in a series of letters, writing of an unfolding landscape, “bend by bend, layer by layer, field by field, gorge by gorge,” early inhabited by Goths, Vikings, Romans and Celts. His imagination stimulated by the change of environment, Tim illustrates his letters home and speaks enthusiastically of his burgeoning creativity.
Tim describes the orchard around his dwelling, his eccentric neighbors, the French love of food and discourse over meals, and a budding romantic relationship with a neighbor. Marcelline is attractive and unpredictable, at times effusive then taciturn, an enigma who both fascinates and repels this young man so protective of his expanding interior life.
At a local gallery where he has begun to sell some of his recent work, Tim meets an effusive and opinionated artist, Pauline LeDuc, who encourages him to meet with her sister, Catherine Benoir, also an artist. The family owns a nearby villa, the fifteenth-century Chateau de la Rive.
Tim basks in the hospitality of the Benoir clan and their decaying family chateau with its inherent problems, stimulated by this inside view of French life at its most dynamic. Although twenty years older, Catherine is indeed a kindred spirit. The two spend hours discussing their work, Tim soliciting advice about Marci as well. Instinctively, Marcelline views Catherine not as an ally but a competitor, adamant that Tim end the friendship.
A four-week road trip with an old college friend does much to clarify Tim’s recent relationship confusion. Tim has matured since moving to France, his former interests replaced by a renewed artistic career; moreover, he is unable to commit to Marcelline because he has grown to love Catherine. Tim and Catherine realize that their evolving friendship has turned to love, what Catherine terms “a love without tyranny.”
Tim’s parents and sibling ultimately supportive, it is Pauline who stands in vocal opposition to the proposed marriage, assembling husband, children and grandchildren, sparing no opportunity to interfere with the marriage: “Even a little happiness attracts a great number of enemies.” An avaricious and duplicitous woman, Pauline exposes the fault lines that have existed beneath the harmonious exterior of the Benoirs.
Reinforced by adversity, Catherine and Tim rise above the fray, withstanding the ill intentions of others. In this most unconventional love story, two people are joined in mutual respect and an unflinching commitment as man and wife. Forging their own happiness, the couple agrees that, “in the end, life requires continued acts of bravery.”