The book is about an author who seeks success, in the form of a job writing for the New Yorker, his ultimate mistress. He eventually lands this job, after his initial smash success novel and sets out to have all his dreams fulfilled. In his search for success he leaves behind his wife, Iris, a couple of past affairs, and the heart of who he is in Minnesota. His second novel is a dud, he has writer's block, he beds many women, drinks lots of hooch, kills the publisher and eventually returns to St. Paul. His wife is still there. Their marriage in limbo for the past decade.
Eventually, Larry realizes what he had right under his nose in his own home. He shares about reconciling and the deep spiritual and animal joy of making love to his wife of many years
You rise naked from the bed and go down to the creek for a drink of water and far off in the distance other males sound their cries of manly joy and wonder and you reply with a deep, chesty roar and the forest is quiet. You drink your water and return to the warm nest of percale and eiderdown and fit your naked self into the dozy curve of Madame's body where she lies swooned on her side and you smell her dew and roses and absorb a simple thought about marriage: this woman is all women, and when you chose her, you became Jay Gatsby, and Robert Jordan and Prince Andre and Raskolnikov and Ishmael and embarked on a life of imagination, which adultery cruelly violates, and breaks up the music in your head, and also it's a hell of a lot of work to scout up something inferior to what you and she can create at home. You have roamed the Western world in search of the perfect tuna sandwich; your wife makes a good tuna sandwich; your powers of imagination are what make it perfect.
The novel doesn't shy away from the messiness of all his living. It shares it first person, R rated, the delight he felt in his tawdry living amidst the ignorance of the damage he was doing to his own heart and soul and his writing. Eventually, in the wisdom of his older age he shares these words about Iris, his wife,
I love her so much. She walks in light. She is entirely beautiful and fitting. She suits me so well. After all these years, she is the most suitable person I know. Praise the Lord. Thank you for your mercy to me, a sinner.
May you find such gratitude as you gaze at your mate.