Ace in the Hole
On the way home from being fired from his job, Ace Anderson yells at a teenager in a car. He stops at his mother's house to pick up his infant daughter, Bonnie, and informs his mother that he has lost his job. Ace's mother is nonchalant about the news and jibes him about his wife, Evey, whom Ace's mother disapproves of. Ace takes Bonnie home, ignoring her while examining himself in the mirror. He finds out a record he set as a high school basketball star 5 years ago will soon be broken. Evey gets home and demands to know what Ace will do now, mocking him about his dreams of becoming a professional basketball player. Evey mutters that she is nearly ready for a divorce, but Ace does not take her seriously. Instead, he dances with her and suggests that they have another child. Although Evey remains tense and uncomfortable, Ace happily reminisces about his fun times as a high-school athlete.
A & P
Sammy is a nineteen-year-old cashier at the A & P, a large supermarket chain. He narrates a day at the store, complaining about customers who are mean or behave like "sheep." He is critical of the commercialism of modern culture. Three beautiful young women enter the supermarket wearing only their bikinis. Many of the shoppers are shocked by the women's skimpy attire, but Sammy and his fellow cashier are enthralled. When the girls check out, Sammy's manager Lengel tries to lecture them about their attire. Sammy is outraged and quits his job, hoping to impress the women - but they have already left. He wistfully regrets leaving his job, and thinks to himself that life will be very hard from now on.
Young David Kern has just moved with his family from a town to a farm on the countryside. His mother appreciates the beauty of the outdoors but his father resents the move, and the two parents constantly fight. One day, David reads a secular account of the life of Jesus written by H.G. Wells, and begins to contemplate his own mortality. He is terrified by the idea that he will one day die and his soul will cease to be. Attempting to get resolution, he questions his parents and his pastor about death and Heaven, but is unsatisfied by their answers to his questions. Months go by, and David receives a rifle for his birthday. His grandmother asks him to shoot a family of pigeons that have been roosting in the barn. David does so with excessive violence. After he calms down, he notices the pretty pattern of the pigeon feathers and contemplates that God would never create such a beautiful world, only to destroy it by killing David. His faith is restored.
Richard and Joan Maple, a middle-aged married couple, are separating temporarily in anticipation of a divorce. They argue over how to tell their four children, finally agreeing to tell each one by one. However, Richard's tears at Judith's coming home dinner sours the plan. Joan tells John about their separation and the news travels to the dinner table. The second-eldest, Dickie, is away at a rock concert and does not learn of the separation right away. Richard becomes deeply emotional and young John is disturbed, eating a cigarette and getting drunk in rebellion. The two daughters handle the news more rationally. That night, Richard goes to pick up Dickie from the rock concert. Although Dickie seems to take the news stoically, he is devastated and gives his father a tearful, passionate kiss good night.
62-year-old Fogel is frustrated by his lack of control in the world. He is easily irritated by the people around him, and his body seems to fail him more by the day. He thinks back on his life, remembering a beautiful woman on an airplane as well as his old mistress. After he brings in the newspaper on Easter morning, Fogel's wife nags him to rake the leaves. He does so, and the couple attends a brunch hosted by their friends the Allisons. At the brunch, Fogel is bored and drinks heavily, and he and his wife leave early so he can go home and watch sports. That night, he falls asleep in his son's bed and dreams of the past, feeling alternately sad, angry, and "heavy in every cell." Fogel wakes up and feels like something is missing.