New York, 1980s. Alice Burns – a young book editor – is deep into a manuscript about the morass of family life. The observations within resonate, perhaps, because she has just watched her own family implode. As she reads she wonders: When did the sadness start? And could it be that unhappiness is a choice? Thus begins a great American epic which follows Alice as she navigates high school, first love and sexism at an elite college, a spell in 1970s Ireland, and a tragedy that sends her stateside as the US embraces a cowboy actor named Reagan. But it is also the tale of her endlessly complex parents and brothers – how their destinies are written by the lies they tell themselves and others.