Todd Andrews, the narrator, begins in 1954 to write the story of one important day in his life, June 21 or 22, 1937 (he cannot remember exactly which), the day he finally decided not to kill himself. The Floating Opera is not only the name of Todd’s account of that day but also an important part of the narrative and a metaphor for the organization of the book. Todd imagines a kind of showboat that drifts up and down a waterway, moved by the currents and the tide. The boat carries actors who put on a show for the people along the shore. The boat is moving, so people see and hear only pieces of the show. Todd writes that life is like that, and so is his book. Such a showboat, also called The Floating Opera, figures in the climax of the book, for Todd originally plans to blow up himself and all the people on the boat during a performance.
Todd is a lawyer who lives in a hotel, where he sometimes has visits from his lover, Jane Mack, the wife of one of his friends and clients, Harrison Mack. The affair began some years earlier when Harrison and Jane wanted to prove that they had a liberal marriage by coercing Todd into sleeping with Jane. After the affair began, Harrison found that he did not feel as casual about sharing his wife with another man as he thought he would, and Jane also felt guilty, but the relationship between Todd and Jane continued in a haphazard manner for years. Jane has a daughter, Jeannine, who may be Todd’s daughter; no one is sure. On the morning of Todd’s important day, Jane visited him in his room.
After visiting with two other roomers in the hotel, Captain Osborn Jones and Mister Haecker, Todd paid his rent for one day at the hotel desk as he always did. Todd lived at the hotel for years, so there was no apparent reason for paying his rent one day at a time, but Todd did so to remind himself each day that it might be his last. There would be no point in paying for more than one day. In fact, Todd had much evidence in his life that death could overtake him at any time. He remembered his father chopping the head off a chicken and then handing the carcass to Todd to help prepare for supper. Todd was in World War...
(The entire section is 889 words.)