Laura Chase is killed instantly in a car accident. Laura's sister must go to the morgue to identify the body, and readers are given an idea of the woman Laura's sister is. She is careful, deliberate, and knows that she must dress appropriately in case newspaper reporters are nearby. She must do anything fitting her position as the wife of Mr. Richard E. Griffen. Especially since the car in which Laura Chase died belonged to Mrs. Richard E. Griffen.
Laura's sister decides to wear black, of course, and she must also wear gloves, a veil, and should bring a handkerchief. When Laura's sister opens a drawer in her dressing room, she comes across a stack of school examination notebooks that have been bound in kitchen string. When she lifts the notebooks out, the shock of Laura's death hits her.
Chapter 2 Summary
There are two main characters in the sub-novel: the man and woman. Clandestine meetings occur between them and the relationship is in its infancy. The woman is described as "nervous." She is married but he is single.
Details are dropped into the narrative like toppings on an ice cream sundae - the color of the woman's dress, the kind of tree that sits outside her bedroom window - and these things will be clues to the identities of the man and woman later on. Additionally, news clips, interspersed between vignettes, keep readers on a linear time path with the main novel. Also in this chapter are stories within stories. The woman and man meet several times and in varied places: over lunch, in a park, at night under a bridge.
Chapter 3 Summary
It is June, 1998 and Iris Chase Griffen is about to present the Laura Chase Creative Writing Award to a graduating senior at Port Ticonderoga High School. Readers get to know Iris a bit better throughout the narrative. The death of her sister Laura, which she describes as being as close to a suicide as the word damn is to swearing, is an old wound that still bleeds. Her representation of the Chase family in the presentation of this monetary award is very difficult for her.
Iris reminisces about her sister's life, how the story in the sub-novel created a town furor worthy of book banning, and how Iris has withstood the worst of this upset for the past 50 years. Yet, Laura is also seen as a genius taken in the prime of her life - a genius that Iris wears like a hair shirt.
Chapter 4 Summary
The man and woman continue to meet in secret. At a cafe, she is uncomfortable because of the part of town in which it is located, and he is uncomfortable with the "fancy" way she is dressed. Their togetherness, for him, is about sex; their togetherness, for her, is about what is missing in her marriage: love and respect.
The two of them leave the cafe and go to a room he is borrowing from a friend. It is threadbare, worn, and shabby. The woman is again uncomfortable in this environment but is so needy for what the man can give her that she stays. They make-love and he continues telling her the science-fiction tale about the residents of Sakiel-Norn.
In another instance, at another time, the man and woman meet in a friend's apartment where they again make love, and again, he continues telling the story.
Chapter 5 Summary
This chapter volleys between present-day and the mid-1920s through the late 1930s in the history of the Chase family. Readers are permitted the chance to know Iris as an old woman and also get to know how Iris came to be that old woman.
It is 1925 and Liliana Chase has died after the premature birth of her third child. Iris is saddled with caring for Laura and knows that it is going to be a full-time job. Even though Reenie acts in a motherly fashion toward both girls, it is Iris who tends to Laura's everyday needs. They must be each other's best friend, because they are not permitted to go off the grounds of Avilion alone. It is during this time that Iris tries...