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by Sue Miller

Pub Date: April 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-26421-3
Publisher: Knopf

An ambitious exploration of the interaction between choice and random chance in human relationships, from Miller (The Senator’s Wife, 2008, etc.).

The book centers on four characters’ reactions to the play that one of them has scripted about the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Leslie attends the play of the title with her doctor husband and their architect friend Sam, with whom she once shared vague romantic longings. Playwright Billy was Leslie’s younger brother’s live-in girlfriend when he died six years earlier on one of the 9/11 planes. Still grieving for Gus, Leslie assumes Billy feels the same sense of loss and is disturbed by Billy’s play, which describes the ambivalence of the survivor. The play’s hero is a man who learns that a bomb has gone off on the train on which his wife was traveling. Horrified to feel relief that his wife’s death would free him to marry his lover, he sends the lover away, and the play ends with his ambiguous greeting to his wife when she returns. As Leslie struggles to understand what the play means about Billy and Gus’s relationship, the actor Rafe, who is playing the lead, also finds the play hitting close to home. His wife is dying of ALS, and he is committed to her care. After he sleeps with Billy one night, he brings the loss and guilt he feels about his wife to his performance, the brilliance of which resuscitates his flagging career. Billy has written the play to clear the air. She had decided to leave Gus before he died, but Leslie sucked her into the role of grieving lover. Now Leslie throws Billy together with Sam. He is immediately smitten, but Billy resists. An architect whose first wife died of breast cancer and whose second marriage ended in divorce, Sam allows chance to take its course.

Miller raises tantalizing questions about the ethics of love, but the actual drama involving her decent, troubled characters never rises above a simmer.