The Distinguished Guest chronicles the visit of an ailing woman to her son and his family. Lily Maynard is proud, chilly, difficult, and famous for writing, at age seventy-two, a memoir about the dissolution of her marriage years earlier and the spiritual and political crises that precipitated that rift. Now, stricken with Parkinson's disease, Lily must cope with her fading powers as well as with disturbing memories of the events that estranged her from her children and ended her marriage. Her extended stay with her architect son, Alan Maynard, while she awaits relocation to a retirement community, sets the stage for conflicts, reflection, and new understanding. The visit raises questions for Alan about his relation to his mother and to his past, about the choices he has made in his own life, about the nature of love, disappointment, and grief. The story moves between Lily and Alan and among others - Alan's loving, wholly grounded French wife Gaby, their two remarkable college-aged sons, a troubled journalist writing a profile of Lily, an African-American graduate student working on a thesis that connects to Lily's history in the early days of the civil rights movement. Pieces of the profile, excerpts from intimate letters and from both Lily's memoir and her fiction, all form part of the rich narrative as it moves toward its dramatic conclusion.