(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dan Williams is a middle-aged man seeking to come to terms with ghosts from his familial past and with the discordances of his familial present. The Williams family, of which Dan is now the patriarch of sorts, is a venerable Maryland clan, with roots that can be traced back to the American Revolution. Dan, a widower with two grown and relocated children, now lives alone in a house that is a physical emblem of familial tradition and history—antiques stand on the oaken floors, two-hundred-year-old oil portraits hang on the walls.

Into this house, Dan welcomes his children for a rare weekend reunion. His daughter, Rachel, a corporate lawyer working in Wilmington, Delaware, is a robust, physical woman; a lacrosse player during her college days, she shares a heartiness with her father that bonds them in an athletic way. She returns with the news that she is leaving the homegrounds of the Chesapeake and relocating to Seattle. Dan’s son, Nick, is a writer currently living in New York City. Dan sees his relationship with his son as problematic—he laments to his daughter that he has “made a hash” of Nick. To complicate matters further, Nick has brought his girlfriend, Patty Keith, with him.

Tragedies, large and small, shadow Dan’s life. His wife, Helen, died in a hit-and-run accident soon after their marriage, leaving a huge gap in his existence as a husband as well as his existence as a man. Dan subsequently sought to fill that gap through a relationship with Sheila Frederick, who years before had been merely a high school fantasy object. This romance left a slightly smaller, but equally jagged, hole in Dan’s heart. Meanwhile, Dan handed over the raising of his two young children to a housekeeper—an act that he now perceives as an abdication of his fatherly responsibility and as a partial cause of his lack of connection with Nick. Dan thinks, too, of his own father and his relationship with that man; Dan worries about being one of a “generation that lost its children.”

The facts of Dan’s personal past impinge on his present. Part of his purpose in having his children temporarily back in the fold is to attempt a reconciliation between himself and his son, although the...

(The entire section is 910 words.)