Stuart Cuno has decided to become good. Not believing in God, he invents his own methods, which include celibacy, chastity and the abandonment of a promising academic career. Interfering friends and relations question his sincerity, his sanity and his motives. Stuart’s step-brother Edward Baltram is tormented by guilt because he has, he believes, killed his best friend. He dreams sometimes of redemption, sometimes of suicide. Edward is sent on a ‘journey to the underworld’ to find his natural father, the painter Jesse Baltram, whom he has not seen since childhood. He discovers a father strangely different from his expectations, and succumbs to an enchantment quite unlike the redemptive cure for which he has been seeking; and meets perhaps the one person in the world who has the power to forgive him. Meanwhile Stuart’s moral apprenticeship is causing nothing but trouble.