An interlocking of the present to the past takes the narrator from the clinic in Rome where he is standing watch over his new, prematurely born son, John, in the wearing job of trying to keep him alive (the twin Richard has died) to his earlier life, in zigzag fashion. Memories of his shrill, demanding mother in America, of his first wife, of the way in which he met Chiara and the slow approaches to her acquiescence through the seasons of Rome and little italian towns, the obduracy of her father, the problems of their nationalities and religion, the warnings of her jealousy and hysterical angers -- end in their marriage which goes from headiness to dislike. These- and the taking up of an old affair in Paris -- background his frantic efforts to keep his son breathing, to make sure the doctors and staff stay on the job, to prevent Chiara from learning that Richard has died and to fight off his own fatigue. And, with everything in vain, there is the sad little funeral and the truth to be told Chiara. Immediate -- and previous -- agonies, of the flesh and the spirit, told in the first person create an abrasive effect, in concentric focus, against a background of lean Italian living. A sometimes affecting confessional.