It is a world we enter in the present, through Macon Dead, Jr. (known as Milkman), son of the richest black family in a Midwestern town. We enter it on the day of his birth (the first black baby allowed to be born at Mercy — popularly called "No Mercy" — Hospital), the day on which the lonely insurance man Robert Smith, poised in blue silk wings, attempts to fly from the steeple of the hospital, a black Icarus looking homeward...
We see Milkman growing up in his father's money-haunted, death-haunted house with his silent sisters and strangely passive mother, and we watch his beginning to move outward — through his profound love and combat with his friend (his Biblical brother) Guitar... through Guitar's mad and loving commitment to the band of seven, the secret avengers called the Seven Days... through Milkman's exotic and then imprisoning affair with his love-blind cousin, Hagar... and through his unconscious apprenticeship to the one person in his family who is open, unfettered, whole: the exiled one, his unkempt, mystical, bootlegging Aunt Pilate. With a brass box for an earring and no navel — "a stomach blind as a knee...something God never made" — Pilate looks like a tall black tree. Pilate also saved Milkman's life before he was born.
And we follow him as he strikes out alone, drawn away from home South, to the place his father came from, by the promise of buried gold. Moving first toward adventure and then — as the unspoken truth about his family and his own buried heritage announces itself — toward an adventurous and crucial embrace of life.
This is a novel in which mystery unfolds on mystery, revelation on revelation — in which our vision of what we have seen turns, changes, and takes shape again, transformed. It is a novel expressing with passion, tenderness, and a magnificence of language the mysterious primal essence of family bond and conflict, the feelings and experience of all people wanting, and striving to be alive.