As a member of the Honor Society at Bailey Academy, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, Ben falls under the tutelage of Pierre LaVerdere, a brilliant, enigmatic teacher who instructs his charges on how to discuss current events, how to think about art and literature, and how to form opinions for themselves. Ben develops close friendships with LaVerdere's other disciples, and as the years go by the legacy of their teacher and his words remain strong. As Ben moves on, first to college and then to the turbulence of post-grad life in New York City, he comes to feel the pace of his life accelerating, his relationships a jumble, and his career plans in a constant state of flux. What did Bailey really teach him? After his father dies, Ben develops a curiously close, yet strained intimacy with his stepmother and tries to salvage what he can of his relationship with his sister. A move upstate offers only temporary respite from his anxieties about work and romance and when LaVerdere returns to Ben's life, everything Ben once thought he knew about the man, and about himself, is called into question.