The book starts with the story of Catherine, who has just discovered that her husband is unfaithful. She leaves their NY home and drives all the way to her family's estate in Tennessee. When she arrives, her grandmother and aunts do not dare ask what has happened, even though everybody wonders where is her husband. What an excellent piece of commentary about Anglo culture: any hot-blooded, Mediterranean type would have pummeled her with questions in seconds. What an excellent opening act! The readers will soon realize that the reason nobody asks questions is so that they do not have to answer any in exchange. From Grandma to Aunt Willy to Cousin Daphne to Cousin Elsie, the entire array of women, whether they are sitting on the porch or not, have searched for love in all the wrong places. The men have not fared any better, and are even more unable to do so that the women themselves.
Almost in a vignette format, we learn about the sad interior lives of all characters. There is an overall feeling of despair that permeates each and every person in the book. There are no happy stories, and what is worse, no sense of hope either.
Caroline Gordon wrote this novel in 1944, which accounts for the fact that the language and tone are quite dated. This was a turbulent time in the US, not just because of the war, but also because of the societal changes that were brewing. Some of the topics addressed by this book are black-white relations, sex outside of marriage, divorce and homosexuality. I imagine that this book caused quite a turmoil, when it was first published.