Liam Pennywell, a sixty-something middle school teacher living in suburban Baltimore, is searching for contentment and meaning in a life that has become increasingly insular. Convinced
that no new prospects are likely, Liam has accomplished all the conventional tasks - grown up, found work, gotten married, and had children. Having recently moved to a new and smaller apartment, Liam is certain this will be the final dwelling place of his life.
But Liamís world is strangely skewed when, one afternoon, he wakes up in a hospital room with a helmet of gauze on his head. All he can remember
is that was he lying on his back in the dark and appreciating the sheets. When his daughter Xanthe tells him
that he was injured by an intruder who broke into his apartment, Liam tells her that he has absolutely no memory of the incident.
His lost memory like a physical object just beyond his grasp and his mind "full of empty blue rushing air," the accident becomes
a catalyst for Anne Tylerís deep exploration of Liamís inner life. Liam is a man who feels he has ended up alone. With two failed marriages, his first wife dead, his three daughters who now lead their own lives, and a sister he seldom speaks to, Liamís promising youth somehow evaporated into a series of low-paying jobs far beneath his qualifications.
Feeling naked, unprotected and unloved, a mood created by his current circumstances, a change occurs when Liam meets Eunice, a personal assistant at the local Cope Development agency who offers him a special measure of hope. When she shows up at his apartment carrying a bag of fried takeout chicken and begins to harbor personal feelings towards him, Liam in turn finds himself attracted to this uncommon younger woman
whose plainness and innocence are so much a part of her charm.
Embarking on a relationship with the same guilty secrecy, the same tantalizingly halfway physical relationship, Liam is plagued by a lack of confidence. While Eunice alternates between shyness and startling boldness, a shocking revelation unravels the affair. Liam is forced to ponder all of the clues that previously failed to alert him to her duplicity.
As Liam sinks into a deep, bitter anger and a memory so humiliating and grimace-making, for the first time he realizes he isnít alone. His ex-wife, Barbara, his three daughters
- Kitty (who comes to stay), Xanthe, and Louise - and his grandson Jonah all delicately help him out of his frustrating inability to connect.
A subtle and sensitive look at the expectations of tangled, fraught lives, the memory of the attack ultimately forces Liam to look back at a life ambushed by complexities. The story stays gentle and unassuming as Tylerís tale beautifully illustrates the unbreakable bonds of love along with a portrait of a rather placid man on the downside of life.
Everything evolves, including family and friendships, but life goes on for Liam, as it does for all of us. Eventually finding his niche, Liam finds comfort in the simplest of joys - ďan ok place to live, a good enough job, a book to read, and a chicken in the oven.Ē In the end, this shy, thoughtful man is much comforted by his experiences in
Tyler's tender tale, where the search for happiness and contentment demonstrate the powerful flexibility of love.