Some games you play. Some you survive.
Jessie Burlingame and her husband Gerald have gone to a secluded lakeside house in western Maine for an off-beat romantic day off. Gerald, a successful lawyer with an aggressive personality, has been able to reinvigorate the couple’s sex life by handcuffing Jessie to the bed. Jessie has enjoyed the game before, but suddenly balks. As Gerald starts to crawl on top of her, knowing her protests are real, he stops only after she kicks him, causing Gerald to have a fatal heart attack, falling on top of her. Trying to wake him up, she manages to make him sit by pushing him with her feet, but since he was dead already, he falls off the bed. Jessie is alone in the house, unable to move off the bed or call for help.
Eventually, a stray dog wanders in through a door that has blown open and starts feeding on Gerald’s body. Jessie is troubled by a terrifying, deformed apparition, whom she initially mistakes for the spirit of her long-dead father. Jessie begins to think of this visitor as the “Space Cowboy” (after a line from a Steve Miller song, “The Joker”), saying out loud that he is “not anyone”, and that he was only “made of moonlight”. A combination of panic and thirst causes Jessie to hallucinate. She hears voices in her head, each ostensibly the voice of a person in her life, primarily “The Goodwife” or “Goody Burlingame” (a Puritanical version of Jessie), and Ruth Neary (an old college friend) and Nora Callighan (her ex-psychiatrist), neither of whom Jessie has spoken to in years. These voices represent different parts of her personality that help her extract a painful childhood memory she has kept suppressed for many years. She was sexually abused by her father at age ten during a solar eclipse that occurred in her hometown. She also begins to realize how unhappy her marriage had been, and that she sacrificed a potentially happy life for the security of Gerald’s paycheck by being a trophy wife without children.
Jessie makes increasingly desperate attempts to escape, first by trying to break the headboard she is cuffed to, then by trying to slip off the bed and push it to the bureau where the keys are placed. One of the voices in her head tells her that if she stays another night, the Space Cowboy will take a part of her to add to his trophy “fishing creel” filled with jewelry and human bones. Jessie escapes the handcuffs by slicing her wrist open on a piece of broken glass, giving herself a degloving injury to lubricate her skin enough for the cuffs to slide off her right hand. She is then able to move behind the bed, push it to the bureau, and use one of the keys to unlock her left handcuff. She passes out from blood loss. When she awakens, the Space Cowboy has made his way back into the house. Jessie confronts him and throws her wedding ring at his box of jewelry and bones, thinking that is what he wanted all along. Jessie then runs out of the house. She makes it into her car and escapes the house, but is terrified to discover the Space Cowboy sitting in the back seat. Jessie crashes and is knocked unconscious.
Months later, Jessie is recuperating and being looked after by a nurse. An ambitious attorney at Gerald’s law firm assists her in covering up the incident to protect her and the law firm from scandal, as well as assisting her in her recuperation. Jessie writes to Ruth Neary, detailing what happened after the incident and her recuperation process. She details a serial necrophile and murderer named Raymond Andrew Joubert, who is making his way through Maine; he was the Space Cowboy, confirmed when Jessie confronted him in a court hearing and Joubert mimicked Jessie’s arm positions while she was in the handcuffs. He also repeats her frightened exclamations, when she thought he was the Space Cowboy apparition, that Joubert was “not anyone” and “made of moonlight”. In the novel’s epilogue, Jessie mentions that the dog, having been abandoned, was shot and killed by the police. After mailing her letter to Ruth, Jessie is finally able to sleep without nightmares, having made peace with her childhood abuse and her husband’s death.