Beattie's first novel since Picturing Will (1990): a chilling, intriguing, and altogether deft exposition of the domestic life of a middle-aged college professor who finds his world cracking beneath the strain of a deluge of unsought revelations. Marshall Lockard is going through something a good deal worse than your ordinary midlife crisis. An English professor at a rather woebegone little college in New England, he plods through his coursework, hardly enthusiastic but too cynical to be disillusioned. Meanwhile, his wife, Sonja, is involved in a loveless affair with her boss; his stepmother is dying; and one of his students has flabbergasted him by telling him dreadful things about a colleague. Haplessly, Marshall allows himself to be drawn into a very tangled web of rape, perversion, pathological lies, obsession, and mental illness, in which no point of view is reliable, and truth itself seems to exist only as a rather callous metaphor: "Literature was the study of Them by Us. It was undertaken by people smart enough to make a microscope of the page--or, more fashionably, to assert that things could shake out any number of ways because the page was a kaleidoscope." The investigation that Marshall takes on at his student's instigation succeeds in discovering unimagined secrets at just about every remove of his own life, and he takes to the road--comically enough, to Florida during spring break--in an attempt to settle the mysteries of his own childhood. Through all of this, Beattie manages to keep the metaphorical elements here grounded in a narrative at once compelling and disturbing, and she broadens the perspective immensely by juxtaposing the unhappy marriage of Marshall's father--as revealed in old love letters interleaved throughout the text--with the spectacle of Marshall and Sonja trying to make a success of their own married life. Vivid, rich, and utterly real: this time, Beattie has fitted her voice to her subject perfectly, and shaped her subject without flaw.