Carl, a retired orthopedic surgeon, and Jessie, a retired teacher, live amiably enough in rural Maine, painting still lifes, knitting, house mending, and pondering the lives of their grown children and the seagulls outside. He is loving, competent, and commonsensical but harbors a traumatic past in Nazi Germany, which he never discusses. She is also loving, is a ruminator, and leans on Carl as "Mr. Fix-it." Neither love nor a handyman, however, has been able to "fix" their mentally ill daughter, Sylvie, who is alternately childishly loving and spouting venomous rage.