McEwan's novel is about a tragic incident that opens the door to an encounter between a stalker and his victim. Joe Rose and his wife, Clarissa, enjoying a picnic, are interrupted when a hot-air balloon escapes from its moorings with a child on board. McEwan's engrossing account of the event describes in minute detail the moment the balloon takes flight to the death of one of the would-be rescuers. It is during this time that Jed approaches Joe and begins a series of harassing phone calls, letters, and personal confrontations. The first-person narrative by Joe is effective in following the disturbed young man as he drives a wedge between the couple.