Kate, a grieving, semi-alcoholic film student, invites an elderly woman to take part in an oral-history documentary. Jean declines, but makes her a bizarre counter-offer: if Kate can stay sober for four days, she will tell her a story. If she can stay sober beyond that, there will be another, and then another, amounting to the entire history of one family's life.
Gradually, Jean offers a heart-breaking account, not only of her own history - a lost lover, a family scarred by war - but of the American century itself; as a deep connection emerges between the women which will transform both of their lives.
"What does it mean to live with integrity in the United States of America? That is the question haunting John Burnside's new novel... The way that Burnside layers these stories is masterful, and becomes a meditation on storytelling itself." Duncan White Daily Telegraph
John Burnside is amongst the most acclaimed writers of his generation. His novels, short stories, poetry and memoirs have won numerous awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Encore Award and the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year. In 2011 he became only the second person to win both the Forward and T. S. Eliot Prizes for poetry for the same book, Black Cat Bone. In 2015 he was a judge for the Man Booker Prize. He is a Professor in the School of English at St Andrews University.