The sprawling narrative of five siblings, born in the 1940's, beginning on the day John Kennedy was shot and ending on 9/11. Between these two iconic dates, we follow the fortunes, love affairs, marriages, divorces, successes and failures of the Perls, an immigrant Polish-Jewish family, from the Lower East Side of New York, to Long Island and beyond.
The oldest, Jackie -- a charming, womanizing attorney -- drifts into politics with help from the Nassau County mob. His younger brother, Michael, a gambler and entrepreneur, makes and loses fortunes riding the ebb and flow of high-risk business decisions. Their sister, Elaine, marries young and raises two children before realizing that she wants more from life than being merely a wife and mother and embarking on a new life in her forties. Their sensitive and brilliant half-brother, Stephen, deals with the growing consciousness that he is gay in an era that was not gay friendly. Stephen goes to Vietnam as a medic, comes home, becomes a writer, and survives the AIDS epidemic of the eighties. The baby of the family, Bobbie, high-strung and rebellious, gets pregnant at Woodstock, moves to San Francisco as a single mother during the "Summer of Love," then winds up in Los Angeles as a highly-successful record producer.
In a larger sense this book is not merely the story of one family, but the story of most immigrant families - Jewish, Italian, Irish, African-American - as they enter the melting pot and emerge as a new generation, as well as the story of the tumultuous years of the second half of the twentieth century.