Set against the violently fragmented matrix of Detroit in 1973, Dobyns' novel is an unlikely fusion of love and violence. The plot centers around the lives of fifteen people—and three dogs—who live in a Cass Corridor rooming house. When an innocent Ontario farm boy comes to Detroit in search of his runaway sister, he provides a temporary focus for the other residents. They include a bartender/writer, an avant-garde composer and his wife, a former policeman, a female artist whose rent is being paid by two men, and a pair of elderly ex-convicts—one a panhandler, the other a locksmith.
Robbery, murder, a stabbing, a poisoning, and a fire serve to bring about a profound emotional transformation among the characters. Against this hostile urban landscape, Dobyns weaves his extrordinary human tapestry. By the novel's close, the housemates "unite" to form a rich though volatile world.