Cyrus Riemer senses the bittersweet effect of time upon his family. In his effort to balance the joys of maturation with the sadness accompanying change, Cyrus learns to respect the “logic of feeling” above the logic of logic.
Cyrus’ parents die within months of each other, bequeathing him a surprising sense of orphanhood. Grateful for the familial bonds they wrapped about him, Cyrus simultaneously fears that their dubious style of parenting lingers in him.
The lives of four grown children keep Cyrus in constant anxiety. How can he serve their disparate needs? Can he help Jenny overcome a fear of motherhood? Will bachelor Ben pick the right girl to marry? What reassurance can he offer Livy’s femininity as she undergoes basic training as an FBI agent? Is there a chance that, unassisted, Jack will overcome years of failed relationships and careers?
Answers are clearer to Cyrus when the questions are somebody else’s. His own life has its share of puzzles. The departure of Agnes, his former wife, for Africa puts the burden of maintaining family ties on Cyrus’ shoulders. Anxious to provide for his offspring’s financial security, Cyrus opens his staid science newsletter to sexy personal ads and risks his inheritance in stock speculation.
Cyrus is also involved with Emma, a woman half his age. He refuses to marry her, hoping to stifle the start of a new family. When biology defeats psychology, and Emma becomes pregnant, Cyrus welcomes fatherhood anew with surprising enthusiasm.
Much of the novel consists of Cyrus’ conversations with his children, lovers, and parents. The dialogue is crisp, funny, and full of memorable one-liners about politics, love, and life. What is not dialogue is monologue. Fortunately, Cyrus’ thoughts are as entertaining and wise as his speech.