Summary: Chapters 1-2

Chapter 1 

The novel begins by introducing the first–person narrator and protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh. She’s a struggling thriller writer from Virginia eking out a living in New York City. She’s single, 31 years old, and feels numbed to the world. She is also juggling financial difficulties and writer’s block. Both of these urgent issues are caused by the recent loss of her mother, who has died after a long illness the week before the events of the novel begin. 

In the first scene of the book, Lowen is close enough to a gruesome pedestrian accident to hear the victim’s head “pop like the cork of a champagne bottle.” She’s drenched in blood, and is ushered into a nearby coffee shop to clean up by a handsome stranger in a suit. She can’t get all the blood off her clothes, so he offers her his shirt as a replacement and the two part ways. Although Lowen feels an attraction to him, she notices he’s wearing a wedding ring and doesn’t try to prolong their interaction.  

Chapter 2 

As it transpires in Chapter 2, this man is the very person she has come to this part of town to meet. Jeremy Crawford, the stranger in question, is the husband of a successful author who needs an unusual employee. Lowen’s agent Corey has set up an interview, knowing she is low on funds and needs to produce some material quickly. Lowen is suspicious of Corey’s motives when he texts her about this meeting, as she has recently ended their sexual relationship, and she knows he’s self–absorbed and utterly uninterested in her sadness. 

Lowen runs into Jeremy in the lobby of the Pantem Publishing building, and as she turns away from him, she’s startled by Corey. The two have an uncomfortable interaction about Lowen’s dwindling publishing options and financial resources. Lowen and Corey head to the assigned room and are quickly joined by Amanda Thomas, an editor, Barron Stephens, a lawyer, and Jeremy himself. Amanda wastes little time, asking that Lowen and Corey sign a non–disclosure agreement before sharing the terms of the job they’re discussing. Corey and Lowen both sign without argument, and are then—to their extreme surprise—informed that the client they are there on behalf of is the enormously famous author Verity Crawford. She’s Jeremy’s wife. 

Verity has a substantial contract with Pantem, but is unable to continue writing her bestselling series The Noble Virtues due to a recent accident that has left her semi-comatose. Jeremy, Amanda, and Barron want Lowen to come and finish her series of novels as her “co-author.” They offer Lowen seventy–five thousand dollars a book to do so.  

Jeremy asks to speak with her alone, and the two discuss the tragedies that have characterized both of their early lives. Jeremy asks Lowen if she has ever heard of the term “Chronics”: people who are prone to chronic tragedy in their lives. He makes it clear that her not accepting this offer is not an option, as far as he is concerned. He desperately wants her to take the contract, and tells her to ask for half a million dollars and no publicity when she speaks to Barron Stephens. He also tells her she can stay at his house in Vermont while she writes and researches. This combination of work, free accommodation, and her attraction to Jeremy are too much to resist, and Lowen agrees to take the deal. 


In the opening chapters of the novel, readers are introduced to Lowen Ashleigh as she witnesses a horrifying pedestrian accident firsthand. Lowen narrates from a first-person perspective here and for most of the novel. She’s a struggling writer who finds herself at a crossroads both personally and professionally, grieving her mother’s death and feeling irrepressibly creatively blocked. She wants to hide from the world, saying that people like her “belong in overpopulated cities” because it makes them “irrelevant.” From the outset of Verity, it is evident that Lowen is dealing with a great deal of as–yet–unrevealed emotional disturbance: something is clearly wrong. The chilling accident that she witnesses in the novel’s opening pages underlines this. Like her mother’s death, Lowen’s life seems to be filled with painful circumstances that she isn’t able to avoid. Even something as simple as walking down the street in New York City could be a deadly choice, as the pedestrian crushed by the truck demonstrates.  

This fateful event of random violence is the beginning of a series of complex coincidences, beginning with Lowen’s brief interaction with Jeremy. Lowen’s encounter with him in the street and the coffee shop point to Jeremy’s grace under pressure and his inherent altruism. From the moment they meet, Jeremy and Lowen are precariously close to danger and forced to deal with its aftermath as a team. There’s also an early indication of attraction and sexual tension between the characters, as they deal with the shock of the accident in close quarters. Their meeting, precipitated by a bloody truck crash, foreshadows the connection between sexuality and violence that also trails behind them.  

Lowen quickly realizes that Jeremy is the husband of the renowned author Verity Crawford, and that he’s actually in the neighborhood to give her a life–changing offer. She’s somewhat star-struck by this connection, as Verity is one of the most successful female writers in the field they share. With her agent, Corey, by her side, Lowen learns of the peculiar and lucrative offer to become the "co–author" for the incapacitated Verity. It’s a double-edged sword, as the opportunity presents both financial allure and a heavy responsibility not to taint the legacy of Verity’s work. The idea of taking over the project is also appealing to Lowen because of the opportunity for anonymity it presents. She hates publicity and refuses to do book signings or tour for her novels, a fact which endlessly frustrates her agent. As a “co-writer” for Verity, Lowen can continue to work on thriller novels without having to stand directly under the spotlight of public scrutiny.  

Jeremy's unexpectedly candid revelation about the concept of "Chronics" paints his life as a tragic tale even before Lowen learns all the details. He tells her that Verity believed their family were doomed to a life of constant sorrow. “Chronics,” according to Jeremy, are never able to be happy for long, “prone to chronic tragedy” with another disaster always around the corner. Although he baldly explains the death of his daughters to Lowen, the rest of their conversation is far less transparent. Jeremy subtly hints at the complications of his family’s tragic past, seemingly unable to complete his sentences. When he does this, it reminds Lowen of a war veteran that she used to know. She almost tells Jeremy that the man committed suicide after losing everything, but even at this early stage decides that she should protect his feelings by lying to him instead. This is the first of many instances in Verity where Lowen decides to keep a painful secret to herself to spare Jeremy’s feelings. It’s also the second time in two chapters that she has formed a close association between Jeremy and violent death.