As the story opens, Peter Birge has just returned from Greenwich, where he left his mother, Anne, at a sanatorium. Peter’s father, a Swedish engineer, died when Peter was eight, but his patents have provided income for Peter and Anne ever since. When not in sanatoriums, Anne has maintained an apartment for herself and her son in Greenwich Village, to the consternation of their more conservative, suburbanite relatives. This unconventional upbringing taught Peter early the limitations of life’s promises for many and inevitably alienated him from the optimism common to his age group. Not surprisingly, therefore, the friend he seeks out on his return to town is an older man, Robert Vielum.
Robert, who in many ways is a mystery to Peter but in whose apartment Peter and other young students have found “a heartening jangle of conversation and music,” takes courses but avoids degrees and has no known source of income beyond the money that he earns renting the extra bedroom in his apartment to a series of young male students. Peter’s arrival discovers Robert entertaining a new young man, an Italian painter named Mario Osti, much to the dismay of his current renter, Vince. Vince is further upset, Peter learns, because Robert is expecting a visit from his daughter Susan and has offered her Vince’s room for the remainder of the summer while Robert and Mario vacation in Rome. Robert had been planning a trip to Morocco with Vince before Mario and Susan...
(The entire section is 461 words.)