John Laskell is thirty-three and is recovering from a serious illness that almost cost him his life. He is also mourning the recent death of his fiancée. In many ways, he is facing a midlife crisis. At one stage of his sickness, he longs for death, spending his time admiring the perfection of a flower that will soon fade out of existence. The Crooms have invited him to their summer home in the hope of speeding his return to good health.
On the train taking Laskell to visit the Crooms is Gifford Maxim, who has gone through his own time of trial. He has lived underground as a Communist agent and then sought sanctuary with friends, whom he asks to help protect him from the Party in his transition to the role of prominent anti-Communist. The Crooms, particularly Nancy, are shocked by Maxim’s turnabout, and it becomes Laskell’s task to mediate between the apostate and his friends, who are “fellow travelers” who still believe in the Party.
Maxim pays a disturbing visit to the Crooms with Kermit Simpson, the publisher of a “rather sad liberal monthly,” The New Era. With Laskell’s help, Maxim has managed to get a job writing for Simpson and to have his name put on the masthead of the journal—an important achievement for a man who believes that his safety depends upon the establishment of a public identity. The Crooms dismiss Maxim’s fears as paranoia, even though they have no firsthand knowledge of the Party’s secret...
(The entire section is 479 words.)