It is 1999. Kate Lambert, a grieving, semi-alcoholic film student, invites an elderly woman to take part in an oral-history documentary. The woman, Jean Culver, declines, but makes her a bizarre counter-offer: if Kate can stay sober for four days, she will tell her a story. And if she can stay sober beyond that, there will be another, and then another, amounting to the entire history of one family's life. Though still shattered by the death of her father, and by the desultory abuse imposed by Laurits, her enigmatic collaborator and erstwhile lover - Kate is soon drawn into a Scheherazade-like matrix of tales, some painfully final, some still unfinished, in which Jean gradually offers a heartbreaking account, not only of one family, but of the American century itself, from World War II to Vietnam and the Weather Underground.