This is a complex work of fiction composed of 3 sections woven together like the parts of an Oriental rug: 1)The first, and the main, section is a historic reminiscence narrated by Iris Chase Griffen, daughter of a Canadin button manufacturer.
Her upbringing in Port Ticonderoga, Ontario at the Avilion estate is portrayed in rich detail in a series of flashbacks, including her relationship with all members of her family and in particular, with her younger sister Laura. We are given a great deal of historic detail about this period, particularly about World War I and attempts at unionization of the button factory, and we are given details about several generations of Iris's family; in addition, both Iris and Laura's personalities are described in some detail and there are significant differences between them. 2)The second section is an elaborately detailed science fiction story which is woven between the chapters of the main narrative and is narrated by an unknown author to his unknown lover in a series of seedy apartment buildings, contrasting sharply with the opulence of Avilion. We do not understand the connection until the end. The science fiction story itself also contrasts for the most part significantly with the somewhat halcyon life at Avilion, since it includes a great deal of gratuitous violence and appears to be about some sci-fi tribe out of the Dark Ages. 3) The third section is a series of "newspaper articles" of familial or newsworthy interest which are interwoven between the other two stories. Through them, we learn more about World War I, about attempts at unionization of the button factory, about deaths in the family, and about social events significant to the family. Two of the most important deaths--Laura's and Iris's husband Richard's--are apparent suicides, and Iris's daughter Aimee also meets a violent end. All three strands are tied together in the last 50 pages with some surprising twists in the plot in the end; the whole narrative works quite well and there are no loose ends. Two of the other well- developed characters are Richard's rather assertive and colorfully-attired sister, who defends her brother at all costs, and the sculptress Callista Fitzimmons.
Still I am rather hesitant to call this great literature, since parts of it are quite "salty" and remind me a bit of Stephen King in their detail: for example, Iris describes and interprets, several times, the graffitti inscriptions on rest room walls at a local donut shop. In this and in other respects she is throwing "everything including the kitchen sink" into her narrative and one might not be totally off the mark to call the whole thing somewhat ridiculous despite its considerable historical detail.