Max Opass is still reeling from the death of his wife Telma. His two grown-up children live abroad with their own families, his son in Bolivia, his daughter in Japan: he writes awkwardly to his daughter with news of his humdrum activities and tells her that he's decided to have Telma's likeness committed to canvas, permanently and posthumously.
To start with, he looks up "Artists" in the Yellow Pages, picks a few at random, and calls them up. He proceeds to ask each if they will produce a portrait of his wife, working from five snapshot photographs of her for reference. One artist - successful and modish - intimidates Max; another - an amateur raising kids by herself - prompts him to pity; a pair of art students baffle him; and a bridge-playing acquaintance turns out to have the elderly hots for him. Each encounter is moving and comic all at once - like Max.
The reader comes to realise that his grasp on who his wife really was perhaps is not so sure. Nor indeed is he a star of self-examination; the memories that poke up out of the snows of his past are often too sharp and painful to hold his gaze. Through a sequence of droll confrontations, his and our understanding expand, and by the end of the story Max finds that his priorities and intentions have altered utterly. And the reader is brought, quietly and slyly, to a new appreciation of loss, memory, love and the uselessness of false images.