On a cold March day at the annual Presbyterian church fair in Baltimore, suddenly in the midst of the puppet show, the Cinderella puppet flops over. The Prince’s voice asks if there is a doctor in the house. No answer - the audience is mostly children under five - until, unexpectedly, a lank, black-bearded man in a rumpled suit steps forward. Minutes later he delivers “Cinderella’s” baby in the back seat of his Pontiac. Then he disappears. Later the young couple wonder if they merely conjured him up in their time of need.
Thus we first encounter Morgan in Anne Tyler’s captivating new novel. Who is he? Is he really a doctor? An actor, an impersonator? Or is he just one of those curiously unassembled human beings who assume so many different roles that it is hard for anyone- even for his wife and daughters- to know who he really is? Indeed, it is a wonder that he, as a penniless student, ever managed to become the husband of easy-going Bonnie, whose inherited wealth and large, gracious house gave their marriage such an air of security. Was Morgan travelling under false pretenses when he entered her life?
Now, more than ever, with their house in shambles and their daughters growing up and leaving him behind, Morgan needs new roles to play, new lives to enter into. The Prince and Cinderella and the golden baby girl he delivered become his obsession, and he stalks them, unobserved- until, finally, four years after their first bizarre encounter, he is forced to declare himself.
What happens when Morgan drops his mask and attaches himself to this couple, disrupting their existence and everyone else’s- as he passes through life, leaving havoc in his wake (or does he really fill a need?)- is at the heart of this wonderfully imagined, always entertaining novel by a greatly gifted writer.