The man has quit his high-paying, esteem-lowering job as the writer of a trendy TV comedy show to write a true and unsparing novel about the way he and his bright, privileged New York friends live. He is visiting the second of his two former wives. She was bisexual when they met, but after living with him for a few years she has become a lesbian. It is a choice he has still not come to terms with. "You knew my history when you married me," she says in self-defense. "My analyst warned me," he admits, but then, wrapping the tattered shreds—of his romanticism about him, he adds, "but you were so beautiful that I got another analyst."
Later on the ex-wife publishes a book called Marriage, Divorce and Selfhood in which she unforgivingly exposes his every flaw. Appalled, he protests. But true to the spirit of her times, she regards confession not as an extension of the gossip column but as a value to be treasured more deeply than tact or taste. "Nothing I wrote was untrue," she snaps, when he accuses her of humiliating him deliberately. She closes the discussion by citing her work's endorsement by contemporary society's highest authority: "I think I'd better warn you that I've had interest in a movie sale."
The man is attracted to a handsome woman full of culture babble. Alas, he must bide his time until his best friend, who just happens to be married, breaks off his relationship with her. One day he does. She takes her dismissal with a chilling display of post-lib schizophrenia: "I'm beautiful, I'm young, I'm highly intelligent, I've got everything going for me except I'm all f-——up . . . I could go to bed with the entire M.I.T. faculty. Shit! Now I lost my contact lens." The sentence runs together like that because her completely contradictory sense of self and her priorities run together in the same way.
Later, he tries to describe his first wife to this woman. "She was a kindergarten teacher, then she got into drugs and moved to San Francisco. She went to est, became a Moonie. She works for the William Morris Agency now." In that throwaway speech he has captured the archetypal odyssey of our time. Wistful questings, the dopey cons with which our society too often responds, the inevitable end in materialism—they are all there in that ingeniously compressed comic moment.
"What does your analyst say?" It is the man's first, natural response when the handsome woman tells him she is going to return to her last lover. Since she is on a first-name basis with the doctor, she replies: "Donny's in a coma. He had a bad acid experience." She sees nothing unusual in this. What do medical ethics or traditions weigh when measured against modishness?
"I give the whole thing four weeks," he tells her, repeating rejected lovers' immemorial cry. "I can't plan that far ahead," she counters, and, God help her, she is not kidding. Heartbroken, he muses more to himself than to her: "You always think you're going to be the one who makes them act different."