Delillo, the master of clean, spare prose, tackles the difficult subject of time, mortality and the mystery of human relationships in this slim novella. Despite the brevity of the story, it is framed in three parts, which some critics have observed that it reads like the 3 lines of a haiku.
The first part details a nameless character who obsessively views a conceptual art installation called "24 hour Psycho", which is a deliberate slowing down of Hitchcock's film so that it spans 24 hours. To the unnamed viewer, "the original movie was fiction, this was real." The main story forms the second part, where a filmmaker, Jim Finley seeks out a retired war strategist or "defense intellectual" Elster, who has become a recluse in the middle of a desert, in order to persuade him to be the subject of a one-take bio-documentary that objectively tells it as it is. In the blankness of the landscape and uncontained space, the two men form an unusual bond that encompasses Elster's detached daughter, who is sent to her father's by her divorced mother as an attempt to set some distance between her and a dubious suitor. The story resolves, or rather, comes full circle when it reintroduces the anonymous viewer at the same exhibit, where inexplicably, only one day has passed since we last met the viewer, though there are telltale signs that the world of intermediate story intersects with this world, which confuses and enthralls at the same time. Is this part of the slowed down time or is Delillo pushing home the point that time is only relative to our experience?