This novel, set in Toronto from late 1976 to the summer of 1978, is centered around 3 people: Elizabeth & Nate Schoenhof, a married couple with 2 young daughters; and Lesje, a paleontologist more at home with dinosaurs and fossils than with most people. The Schoenhofs have been married for 10 years and find that they are not well-matched.
Elizabeth, a rather self-assured woman and museum administrator who likes to feel she can control almost any situation and exert her influence on almost anyone, had had a relationship with Chris, a ruggedly-built man (think Grizzly Adams) who worked as a taxidermist at a downtown museum, where Lesje also works. Nate, a lawyer who left his job with a law firm to build and sell large scale wooden toys, tolerates his wife's infidelity, for he is aware that he is not enough for Elizabeth. Nor is she for him. On that point, both Nate and Elizabeth are in agreement. Eventually, Nate becomes involved with Lesje (after forsaking another woman with whom he had been having an affair), and this further complicates the lives of all those concerned.
To the casual reader, this story may seem banal, for it describes what is commonplace in most human relationships in an urban milieu. But Atwood is so skilled in exploring both the interior and exterior lives of people that the reader cannot help but become interested in wanting to know what form the resolution will take --- or if there will be any resolution at all.