James Chandler, who is dead at the beginning of the book, is a philosopher mainly concerned with metaphysics and aesthetics. Since the prologue opens with four women visiting his grave (his mother, his widow, his oldest daughter, and Viola Staley), one feels he was justified in asking questions about ultimate reality—indeed, from chapter 1, he has known he was dying. He is a man who loves, but he feels continually that he does not give people their due, especially those closest to him. His thoughts about various issues in his life’s work intersperse the book, as do new thoughts raised by his immediate situation and by his visit to his old town, his former piano teacher, his father’s workshop, and John Horne. Like John Gardner in appearance, Chandler also resembles him in his mystical tendencies and his interest in issues that logical positivists would say are nonsense.
Maria Chandler is an intelligent woman uninterested in her husband’s work. She worries what meals will be nutritious for him in his last days and wonders where she will rear their daughters after his death. She is the sort who makes the living of a decent life possible for the James Chandlers of the world.
Karen, Susan, and Anne Chandler are too young to do much more than be girls, though Karen already is showing signs of becoming serious-minded. She asks Viola if there is a God, and she notices much, including how people play various games, in some of which she leads...
(The entire section is 536 words.)