Greenie Duquette is a successful Greenwich Village pastry chef who owns her own catering business.
She and her psychotherapist husband, Alan, have a four-year-old son: George, an avid reader and obviously the light of their lives.
When her best restaurateur friend, Walter, tells her of a job opportunity to be the private chef for the Governor of New Mexico, Greenie jumps at the prospect, her tranquil and settled life masking her desire to break out of the mold she has made for herself. Consequently, she doesn't hesitate to move to Santa Fe, taking
young George with her. Alan is slightly chagrined, resenting Greenie's success
and doggedly refusing to join her.
Over the months, the couple steadily drifts apart. Greenie hooks up with Charlie, a handsome old flame, while Alan discovers that he fathered a child with Marion, a high-school sweetheart. Meanwhile, the inexplicably blessed and footloose Walter becomes embroiled in a romantic entanglement with Gordie, an attractive attorney who is in long-term relationship with Stephen.
The irony is that Stephen and Gordie – who were thinking of adopting a child until Stephen was unceremoniously dumped by Gordie - are both Alan's patients. But is Stephen's passion for child-rearing only masking his heartbreak, in which the bubble might ultimately burst?
The passion of twenty-something Saga – who coincidentally meets Alan on the street – is to care for lost animals. She hooks up with the older, cynical Stan, an organizer of a group of people
looking out for strays and rescuing abused animals in Manhattan. Saga is trying to take back her life after suffering from a devastating brain injury. She not only finds solace in Alan's friendship but also seeks comfort with gay Scottish bookseller Fenno McLeod.
Together with a large supporting cast, Glass' characters orbit each other in a type of six-degrees-of-separation fugue, always yearning for the same things: love, respect, even babies. Indeed, trying to break through the "baby cross-roads" is one of the chief motivations of these people.
Plagued with doubts, regrets and agonies, Greenie yearns to escape from the anxieties of how to get along with her husband and how to afford a home where her son can have a real room. Alan must wrestle with his own demons, especially with his guilt over his infidelity with Marion all those years ago.
Walter, unashamed of the homeliest pleasures, has his life thrown into chaos when his young nephew arrives from San Francisco to stay for an extended period. Saga is confused and in pain, humiliated by the inability to recover parts of herself that she
can almost recall.
As the past progressively impinges on the present – there are meticulous back-stories on each character - Glass steadily draws her protagonists into the chaos of 9/11. These people inhabit a loaded, political, euphemistic and convoluted world; although they might venture into "the whole world over," in the end they return to their separate colonies.
At over five hundred pages, The Whole World Over is indeed a weighty tome and sometimes not as tightly knit as it should be. The convoluted storyline - as it switches from Santa Fe, to New York, to San Francisco, then on to Maine – along with the endlessly droll conversations, ends up making the novel a bit of a slog.
Glass, however, endears her characters with so much zest, enthusiasm and passion that you can forgive her for getting carried away with it all and making her story a little over-long.