At nineteen, Emily is attracted to men in a superficial way, currently enamored of Tom, the son of her parents’ former acquaintances, Andrea and Tony Raine, who are going through the a barely civilized divorce. Andrea has purchased a house across the way, Tom’s cousin, Simon, and his wife, Rachel, moving in temporarily to help with Andrea’s settling-in process.
Emily’s romance with the strikingly handsome Tom is spent in endless nights of pounding music, dancing until the wee hours in the dark shadows of drunkenness, her social life a clique of club kids, "a them and us fiction... all it was in reality was the possession of Class A and B drugs.” Emily isn't ready for commitment or love, content to drift along in a shallow relationship. Whenever Tom betrays neediness, Emily chooses ignorance, carefully aloof: "I helped myself to all the power of being loved, with none of the cost to myself."
Emily's parents coexist in a constant state of tension; her father keeps his clothing in the bedroom closet but sleeps in the guest room, and husband and wife’s conversations are threaded with sarcasm. In contrast, Tom's mother is brittle and angry, her bitterness infecting everyone around her. In the midst of all this dissatisfaction, Emily suddenly longs for intimacy, tired of her parents’ distance and put off by Andrea's tragic self-indulgence.
When Emily begins a clandestine affair with Simon, her attention is intensely focused; she believes the world will bend to her wishes. This young woman's moral quandary is resolved, if not to her liking, shaped more by reality than fantasy, an indelible lesson: "Blame... is there waiting in your own mind, when you are ready to read it."
Romance with the very married Simon awakens this Sleeping Beauty from a long summer of self, but the affair is rendered almost incidental to her newly realized emotional maturity. Revived from the dark well of her own ego, Emily’s awakening is tainted by the cost to others, a young woman who has sought comfort in isolation and passivity.
Stevenson has a knack for young, hip English dialog, in this case, Emily's ongoing inner commentary as she is swept into her love affair that obliterates her self-protective boundaries. The frail pretensions of youth are betrayed by the human flaws that determine the consequences of our actions. Emily's coming-of-age is fraught with pain, but impressive, a passport to a more effective adulthood. Stevenson’s prose pierces the surface of facile relationships to expose fears, denials and shattered dreams.