When sixty-two-year-old Malachi Walmsley learns that his mother has died, he travels from his residence in Flagstaff, Arizona, to his boyhood home in Covington, Louisiana, to settle her estate-and it's a large one. Estranged from his mother for forty years, Malachi wonders how authorities even knew how to find him.
As Malachi makes his journey, he tells his story and communicates via e-mail with the important people in his life: his wife, Amanda Greene, from whom he is contemplating divorce; Winifred Hauser, a childhood friend with whom he shares a special connection; and his psychiatrist, Cletus Hardin. Malachi fears this return trip to Covington will open old wounds that caused a deep depression and frightening nightmares.
The nightmares stem from a fatal accident when Malachi was just eight years old. His Uncle Buddy died, and his mother suffered severe physical and psychological trauma. The close-knit mother-son relationship was never the same.
Back in Covington, Malachi seeks counseling from Ruth Blanchard. As she delves deeper into the situation and the mystery unfolds, she realizes Malachi's problems are multifaceted. By the time Ruth discovers the full truth, she understands the true significance of Malachi's e-mail ID, fractal.