Doug and Jean Willis agree that Doug will take a two-month leave of absence from his public relations job in New York City to do repair work on their rural residence in upstate New York, Preston Falls, but more importantly, to evaluate the professional and domestic dissatisfaction that he has landed himself in. Jean agrees to stay in their upscale Westchester home, caring for their children and continuing her job.
The family heads to Preston Falls for a final weekend together before leaving Doug to his healing solitude. The weekend ends disastrously as Doug is arrested for causing a disturbance at a campground. He spends a night in jail, Jean takes the kids back to Westchester, and Doug’s two-month sabbatical officially begins.
His intentions are for the best: he plans to repair plumbing and rotting wood, and to re-think his public relations job that he feels is by its nature dishonest. Quickly, however, his varied indulgences propel him into some painful, yet often comic circumstances that cause him to drive his pickup away from Preston Falls and his problems. The story switches to Jean’s perspective approximately two months later where, after maintaining the home front, she begins to suspect that Doug is not coming back.
The final section of PRESTON FALLS is a whirlwind for Jean as she searches for Doug, manages their runaway or delinquent children, and learns she will shortly be out of a job. When Doug finally reappears, both he and Jean are exhausted and defeated and agree on divorce, which neither had seemed originally to want.
The dreary circumstances of this novel are made valuable to the reader through David Gates’ outstanding insight and sympathy for the characters. One is repulsed by many of the characters’ attitudes and choices, while often identifying with them, too.