His grandmother was asking for him as she lay dying, they had written, and even though his mother’s side of the family were strangers, he drove out to see the old woman in Plain- field, New Jersey, on a Saturday afternoon in August that fell in the middle of an oppressive heat wave. He, Goodman, took a girl, Libby, having always decorated himself with womanly trinkets on occasions that required solemnity; he felt more comfortable in the company of a woman and realized that the importance he gave to her aesthetic acceptability reflected his own disquietude at any prospect of going it alone. The prettier the womanly trinket, he understood, the stronger he thought he appeared.
His mother had died seventeen years ago when Goodman was thirteen. Her own family had been remote from the world she entered at marriage; Goodman’s father, a journalist, made every effort to include his wife’s sisters and mother at parties and on holidays, but gradually they fell away like lesser players in a tournament until only her mother, Good- man’s grandmother, remained with any degree of consistency. Grandma was an old woman early, shaking with Parkinson’s disease and a natural tendency toward extreme fright, but she survived her daughter by seventeen years, living a perky life around gardens of radishes and maple trees, until now, with her other three daughters and many grandchildren wandering through the house, she lay quietly near death, a box of YES tissues and her wedding ring sitting nakedly on a long white bed table.