Sexagenarian Boris Yelnikoff is an academic genius, a former Columbia University professor in quantum mechanics. He also has total contempt for the human race, he believing the species in general comprised of self-serving morons, himself included, although he being able to see the big picture better than most. As such, he had tried to commit suicide in the past, that failed attempt which has now left him with a limp. He believes that life is a series of chances, and whatever happens, happens. Such was the problem with marriage to his college sweetheart Jessica, where they were perfect for each other on paper, but not in real life. Boris has largely retreated from the world, he having a small, close knit group of friends with whom he can kvetch, while he teaches chess, primarily to adolescents, again a task for which he has total contempt. Into his life comes Melody St. Ann Celestine, a twenty-one year old runaway from Eden, Mississippi. Melody is uneducated and simpleminded, the product of Christian fundamentalist parents, Marietta and John Celestine. It is that stifling family life from which she is running. Individually, Marietta and John eventually come looking for their daughter and peripherally through Melody also enter Boris' life. While Boris and New York do have some influence on Melody, Marietta and John, Melody in particular may have some influence on Boris, bringing him an inch closer to rejoining the human race.