The book is narrated by retired creative writing professor George Newett, who lives with his poet wife Amanda Todd. The couple are living in a cramped rental while deciding what to do after the destruction of their Heron Bay Estates home, as depicted in Barth's previous book, The Development. As the book opens, the two are planning a trip to Shakespeare's birthplace. George hits his head when they get there and experiences past memories as if they were present, each occurring on the first day of a new season, and each corresponding to a new "season" of George's life.
The novel's title is taken from the final scene of Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest. The line is spoken by the magician Prospero, at the end of a speech in which he promises to renounce magic and live an ordinary life on returning to Milan.