Henry Porter is a teacher who has never allowed himself to enter adult life completely. Just shy of forty and long divorced from his wife, he hasn’t spoken to his daughter in years and makes ends meet over the summer by gambling on horses. He believes that he is content with his adolescent lifestyle, despite his strained family relations and stalemated relationship with his girlfriend, Elizabeth.
The story of Henry’s travails is made interesting rather than painful through author Robert Bausch’s use of Henry’s equally humorous and poignant voice. Despite his obvious flaws, Henry is so likeable that the reader finds it easy to be lured into believing his web of justification and self-deception. Henry’s illusions begin falling apart, however, when his eighteen-year-old daughter Nicole comes to stay with him, her friend Sam in tow.
Just as Henry is forced into confronting his failures as a father to Nicole, Elizabeth informs him that she is pregnant and that she intends to have the baby. Henry is at first shocked and frightened by this disruption to what he has considered a comfortable and stable life; soon, though, he begins to think of the unborn child as a second chance.
Henry’s character is further unveiled when his stern, war-hero father is introduced and it becomes clear that Henry feels he has failed to live up to his father’s expectations. It’s not long before Henry loses control of his flimsily arranged life. Through refusing to meet problems as an adult, he causes Elizabeth to have an accident and lose her baby, and his meddling with a deranged date of Nicole’s goes dangerously awry. It is only with his father’s death that Henry comes to understand just where his duties lie.