In The Way Men Act, author Elinor Lipman tells the story of Melinda LeBlanc, who has recently returned to her Massachusetts hometown, the fictional Harrow, after a stint in California. She is surprised to see that the college town in which she grew up has changed significantly during the decade she has been away. It is now hip and trendy, and Melinda feels a bit lost despite the fact that she grew up there. Melinda's new job arranging flowers for her cousin, Roger, is quite a departure from that to which she has become accustomed. Suddenly back among her old high school classmates, Melinda comes to the realization that she may be home but is no longer the popular cheerleader she once was.
Melinda befriends the eccentric Libby Getchel, a dress designer whose shop is next door to the florist. In high school, the two never had time for one another; now, they become friends and allies out of necessity. Melinda grows more frustrated by her status as a single woman over 30 with each bridal bouquet she makes for someone else. In an effort to determine why she is all alone, Melinda must look inward as well as outward to her new friend Libby. Libby and Melinda are determined to be as hip and cool as their new and improved hometown is.
When Dennis Vaughan, their former classmate, opens a fly fishing shop, Brookhoppers, near the florist and the dress shop, a love triangle results. After one night together with Melinda, Dennis leaves her, beating a path for the other men who will follow after him. But readers soon learn that Dennis has troubles of his own. At first it is unclear whether he is ambivalent about moving ahead with Melinda because he is African-American and she is not. However, it is clear that this is not the only issue he is facing. His ex-wife, Iris, has announced that she is a lesbian and has run off with another woman. The situation becomes even more complicated when Iris befriends Melinda and employs Libby as a designer.
Lipman has stated that The Way Men Act, published in 1993, is about her two favorite themes: "1.) going home and 2.) Who's sorry now?" Lipman's other novels include Isabel's Bed, My Latest Grievance, and The Inn at Lake Devine.