As summer begins, much is rotten in the sleepy town of Lethem, Ohio. Katherine Watters, college English professor, mother and wife, is bored. Her flaky neighbor Mona Edwards obsesses over chocolate and longs for her husband Sam, who is chronically overseas on business. And the mental illness of their son, Buddy, is a wedge between Harry and Irene Newcomb, another set of neighbors. Miller's deliberate soap opera continually changes focus as the lives of the various characters intersect, often without their complete awareness. Winter approaches, and Buddy, who happens to be a former student of Katherine's, escapes from a mental hospital and sets fire to the Watters' home while the family is vacationing in Michigan; back in Ohio, rebuilding the house and temporarily lodging at Mona's, Katherine secretly lusts for handsome handyman Robin Hastings, while lonely Mona makes a pass at Katherine's husband, David, and Robin takes up with the Watters' son's voluptuous elementary school teacher.