Last Updated on January 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1205
The novel opens at one of Frances and Bobbi’s poetry performances, where they meet Melissa—a popular writer and photographer who invites them to her house to get to know them better and write their profiles. Frances—a young student and aspiring writer, discovers that Melissa is married to actor Nick Conway. Frances describes him as a tall and handsome man with an attractive face and body; despite his physical appearance, he is quite timid and gentle. After the meeting, both Bobbi and Frances frequently visit the Conways and spend time with them, quickly becoming friends.
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Bobbi, a gay woman, admits to having a crush on Melissa and even flirts with her, especially after she learns that Melissa is bisexual. Frances, on the other hand, is so captivated by Nick that she starts to flirt with him. Much to her surprise, he flirts back. She learns that Nick is starring in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and wishes to see him perform. He tells her that he will get her tickets. She goes to see the play and thinks that even though the production is terrible, Nick is mesmerizing. After that, they begin to exchange emails.
At Melissa’s birthday party, their flirtation grows into a physical one and they kiss, after which Nick tells Frances that they shouldn’t do this in the utility room. Ashamed and confused, Frances leaves, but soon she and Nick begin a passionate love affair. Nick apologizes to her via email for what happened and explains that he has never kissed anyone else since he married Melissa. When Melissa goes to London for work, Frances visits Nick and they sleep together. She reveals that Nick is the first man she has slept with, as all of her previous flings were with women and her most serious relationship was with Bobbi. Frances enjoys spending time with Nick and loves the conversations she has with him. However, she also feels vulnerable to Nick, as she believes that she is the only one who initiates anything physical between them. She tells him that she doesn’t want to be a home-wrecker and ruin his marriage. Soon she becomes cold, distant and sarcastic towards Nick, as she feels unwanted, and they decide to break up.
Soon, Melissa invites Frances and Bobby to a villa in Étables that belongs to her friend Valerie. Bobbi is excited to go, and Frances, not wanting to crush Bobbi’s enthusiasm, accepts the invitation. During their stay, Frances and Nick manage to resolve their problems and decide to get back together. Melissa suspects that something might be occurring between Nick and Frances. She confronts Frances, asking her if Nick has done something to her and Frances tells her no. After Valerie announces that she will come to visit them soon, Melissa tries to make everything appear in perfect order and irritates the majority of the group with her behavior.
Bobbi starts to feel jealous of Nick. After an unpleasant conversation with Valerie, Frances excuses herself and Bobbi goes after her and kisses her on the lips because she finds her “lovable and self-righteous.” Later, when everyone is asleep, Frances goes to Nick’s bedroom. They sleep with each other and talk about the impossibility of their relationship. Bobbi comes and asks Nick whether he has seen Frances, and he tells her that she is with him. Frances knows that the situation is compromised, but she assures Nick that Bobbi won’t tell anyone. Bobbi and Frances leave Étables the next morning.
After meeting with their friend Marianne, Bobbi and Frances decide to live together. In an attempt to convince herself that she is “normal,” Frances goes on a date with a man she meets on Tinder and sleeps with him. She tells Nick about this, and, even though he doesn’t show it, he’s upset. They have an argument and Frances tells Nick that she loves him and that he doesn’t love her.
The next day, Valerie contacts her, and Frances sends her the story she wrote a few days earlier. She begins to feel sick, as she suffers from endometriosis, but decides to go to class anyway and passes out. Bobbi helps her and they talk while Frances is in the bathtub. Bobbi reflects that “when Frances likes someone, she makes them feel like they’re different from everyone else.” Nick comes over and informs her that he told Melissa about them and that Melissa understands. He then tells Frances that he loves her as well.
Melissa sends a lengthy email to Frances in which she tells her that she and Nick are going to stay married. She compares Frances to herself, mentioning that she, too, has an alcoholic father and speculating that they both may be attracted to Nick because he makes them feel safe and in control, which is something they lacked in their childhoods. She also tells Frances that Nick is “pathologically submissive” and that he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. She admits that she believes Frances makes her husband happier and that he probably sees Frances as “the great love of his adult life.” She remarks on her difference in age from Frances and ponders about love, age and boundaries. She finishes the email by inviting her and Bobbi to dinner.
After that, the four of them—Bobbi, Frances, Melissa, and Nick—begin to hang out again. Frances gets an email from a publisher in Dublin interested in publishing her story. When she goes home, she learns that Melissa has sent Bobbi the story and that Bobbi has read it. Bobbi feels betrayed that Frances didn’t tell her that she wrote a story about their relationship, and she decides to pack her bags and leave. Nick calls Frances to tell her that he started sleeping with his wife again, and after some time they decide to end things between them. Frances blames herself for what has transpired and even attempts to cut herself to feel better.
Soon she gets a job at a local café and doesn’t contact anyone. She even has an argument with her mother, telling her that she has enabled her father’s alcoholism. She ends up in a church where she ponders the meaning of love and humanity, and she sends Bobbi an email in which she tells her that she still loves her and asks her “if they could develop an alternative method of loving each other.” Bobbi tells her that she loves her too and they decide to rekindle their relationship.
After some time, Nick calls Frances. She opens up about her illness and tells him that she and Bobbi have begun to see each other again. Nick indirectly tells her that he might still be in love with her. He confesses that the first night they kissed, he went upstairs and waited for her. He remarks that if she were to ask where he is, he would wait for her, because he has an “impulse to make himself available for her.” Frances realizes that sometimes “you have to live through certain things before you understand them” and tells Nick to “come and get her.”