This book has the unusual format of containing two books in one: from front to back reads "The Wife's story" and from back to front "The Husband's story." The latter was written first, but the two are written such that either can be read first.
The wife, Brenda Bowman, is a housewife who has recently gained commercial success and cultural renown as a quiltmaker. As the novel opens, she is leaving her Chicago home to attend a quiltmaker's conference in Philadelphia. Over the course of a week, she attends workshops on various aspects of quiltmaking, makes friends, and becomes increasingly intimate with a man she meets. On the first night at the conference, she visits him in his room and leaves there her brand new red raincoat, which she purchased at an exorbitant price, and finds it missing when she returns. She reflects much on her relationship with her husband Jack and with the two teenage children she has left at home.
Meanwhile, Jack remains at home. His half of the story covers the same timespan but essentially none of the same events. Jack is a historian who has been working for years at the same book and is beginning to doubt himself and his subject matter. He reads in a journal that an ex-girlfriend, the girl he left for Brenda, has just published a book on ostensibly the same topic. While pondering the future of his career, Jack is overwhelmed by crises: his best friend separates from his wife and comes to stay at the Bowman house; the next door neighbor attempts suicide. All the while, Jack ponders his own role in history and the way that the recorded versions of events often leave out the most significant points.
This report prepared by Melissa Rachiele