Professor Grady Tripp is a novelist who teaches creative writing at an unnamed Pittsburgh university. He is having an affair with the university chancellor, Sara Gaskell, whose husband, Walter, is the chairman of the English department in which Grady is a professor. Grady's third wife, Emily, has just left him, and he has failed to repeat the grand success of his first novel, published years earlier. He continues to labor on a second novel, but the more he tries to finish it the less able he finds himself to invent a satisfactory ending. The book runs to over two and a half thousand pages and is still far from finished. He spends his free time smoking marijuana.