The book opens in rural Kentucky, where a woman named Alice has just woken up in the middle of the night, thinking about her married life. At sixty-one, Alice has been married only two years, after having spent most of her adult life alone raising her daughter . Taylor has grown up and lives in Tucson. Alice's husband Harland runs El-Jay's Paint and Body and collects old car junk which is taking over Alice's house and he spends most of his time watching the Home Shopping Channel. Although Alice's outward appearances would suggest the contrary, Alice is lonely and sad in her marriage. Alice regrets that she cannot call Taylor, as it is the middle of the night. Alice feels she needs some proof that she is not the last woman on earth—the "queen of nothing."
Alice walks outside in her nightgown, and feels she could just walk away from her house and her life. Instead, she notices Hester Biddle's pigs rummaging in Alice's garden. She tries throwing things to scare them away, but they stay and she eventually concedes. When dawn breaks, Alice notices a mockingbird on a mulberry tree and then up on the roof. At the end of the chapter, Alice has a daydream about a second cousin of hers, Sugar Marie Boss. Sugar and Alice grew up together. When Sugar moved to Heaven, Oklahoma, she ended up posing for an advertisement in Life Magazine, with a soda pop at her lips and a crown of daisies on her head, leaning against a sign that said, "Welcome to Heaven."
Taylor and her daughter Turtle are on vacation at the Grand Canyon, and have stopped to see the Hoover Dam. When Turtle's taking her mom's picture, Taylor notices a marble slab that commemorates all the men who died building the dam. Next to the monument is a man in a wheelchair who claims he is touring "monuments to the unlucky."
Before they leave, Turtle notices a man go down the side of the dam opposite the water, a round spillway, a hole hundreds of feet down. Turtle does not mention it until she and Taylor are on the highway. Taylor believes Turtle is telling the truth, and they turn around.
After yelling into the hole to no avail, the mother and daughter find a police officer, asleep on duty. He is rude, and does not take Turtle's story seriously, but Taylor's sassy attitude gets them into see the officer's boss, Hugo Alvarez. Taylor goes another round with another doubtful officer.
Finally, the next day, Easter Sunday, Taylor finds a janitor who recognizes her description of Lucky Buster, the man who fell in the hole. On Monday morning a rescue team pulls him out.