Ben Rhodes, a Classics professor in his mid-thirties, flees a personal tragedy to take a visiting position at a new university. His new Department Chair is Valerian Hadley, a charismatic if egomaniacal historian whose once-bright career has stalled. Ben and Hadley clash, mostly, about the nature of Ben's relationship to Anna, Hadley's graduate student. Hadley quickly notices a spark between Ben and Anna, who sleep together after Ben gets intoxicated at a university party. Ben regrets his actions, in spite of his affection for Anna. Anna leaves to study abroad in Rome and Ben falls into a seemingly no-strings-attached relationship with an attractive and liberated Polymer Science professor named Stacey. It appears to be just sex and a way to get Ben's mind off of Anna, but Stacey proves wiser than Ben gives her credit for. Meanwhile, Hadley struggles to care for his elderly father, who suffers from ever-worsening dementia.

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