Kitten Dubonnet, 38, leaves her St. Charles Avenue home, her Brooks Brothers husband, her violent adoring son. Compelled to leave town the day before his departure for boarding school, she distracts herself by going to a conference in the wilds of Missisippi. On the way to Oxford, she hopes to confront the terrifying reflections she has channeled in her journal, to open up and claim the real someone she was meant to be. But a stage four Hurricane Jose is approaching.
At Union Station, she sees her Tulane professor, Beau Ellis, standing under a patchwork glass roof inside a shaft of light, near an old commuter train.
She knows exactly what she is doing - going to graduate school to get her PhD in poetry. Her generation is the one that stopped the emotional beating that women had endured since the Ice Age.
Giving Beau her bags, she ignores the scent from his lapel that smells like her husband's Perry Ellis. Despite his postion as teacher and mentor to women, Beau believes that women shouldn't do too much to advance themselves, insisting on careers and degrees. Secretly, he prefers women to go unconscious and pretend that their souls belong to him.
But the rain mounts into a tropical depression and the train breaks down outside of Hammond. Kiotten and her profesor must evacuate into a whistle-stop train station perched in the Louisiana swamps.
The part of her who enjoys teas at the country club, finger sandwiches on the Fourth of July, champagne brunches on Mardi Gras say begins to demand retribution. Has she been punished for her desire to evolve?
The rain pours, buiding into rushes. Soon, the porter, Raven, a tough man with an Afro, arrives and tells them that a hurricane is headed for the swamp. Kitten tries to calm herself by writing in her journal and reading Beau snatches of it. She and Beau talk a lot to mollify themselves. Both yearn to heal their relationships as they drink Sazeracs from a thermos and search for grace. A bigger part of them loves poetry, wantes to be treated with dignity, and feels that people deserve to grow.
When Raven chases a stowaway inside, Kitten panics on seeing who it is. She goes unconscious, pretending that the boy made a silly mistake. It is Kitten's 14-year old son, Bunky, who has hiden on the train to spy on her.
Kitten tries to call her slick but aloof attorney husband, but Raven says that the hurricane is 90 miles away, and the engineer is turning Bunky in to the Missisippi police. Kitten begs Ravenb to let her handle the matter, but Raven handcuffs Bunky and leads him to the train. Unsuccesfully, Beau pursues them in a valiant effort to help.
Failing at that, Beau confronts Kitten about spoiling Bunky and catering to a narcissistic husband. She accuses him of degrading his wife and daughter with his intellectual posturing.
Broken, Kitten shares with Beau her deepest fear that her son will kill himself. She blames the psychiatrist, her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, and her husband for spoiling Bunky. Equally guilt ridden, Beau shares with her his shame - he allowed his second wife to brainwash his daughter against him, and he thought his first wife was happy until he discovered she was an alcoholic.
They are fighting the Big Easy in themselves and in their city. New Orleans is a party town: beautiful houses, people, lawns; music everywhere and romance in an afternoon storm. But now romance has turned into revenge. The ceiling buckles with a strangled sound. Kitten and Beau hunt for her son through the shrieking wind and flooding rain. They encounter misfits and muggers in the swamp, abandoned trucks, boats, camps. The boy and Raven make it back to the depot, both contrite and changed by the avalanche of nature.
The eye of the storm hits, and everything turns green. All four pray and forgive each other.
No one is sure he is alove, dead, or in a dream, seeing about two hundred feet away a rescue boat, phosphorescent, like mother-of-pearl. All are determined to change their lives should they have a second chance.