Literary agent Joe Allston, the central character of Stegner's novel All the Little Live Things, is now retired and, in his own words, 'just killing time until time gets around to killing me.' His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, had not been his choice. He passes through life as a spectator. A postcard from an old friend causes Allston to return to the journals of a trip he and his wife had taken years before, a journey to his mother's birthplace, where he'd sought a link with the past. The memories of that trip, both grotesque and poignant, move through layers of time and meaning, and reveal that Joe Allston isn't quite spectator enough.
Wallace Stegner was the author of, among other works of fiction, Remembering Laughter (1973); The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943); Joe Hill (1950); All the Little Live Things (1967, Commonwealth Club Gold Medal); A Shooting Star (1961); Angle of Repose (1971, Pulitzer Prize); Recapitulation (1979); Crossing to Safety (1987); and Collected Stories (1990). His nonfiction includes Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (1954); Wolf Willow (1963); The Sound of Mountain Water (essays, 1969); The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard deVoto (1964); American Places (with Page Stegner, 1981); and Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West (1992). Three short stories have won O.Henry prizes, and in 1980 he received the Robert Kirsch Award from the Los Angeles Times for his lifetime literary achievements.