This innovative novel is not easily summarized, as unlike most works of fiction--indeed, unlike many works of nonfiction--there is no concrete narrative, no problem that needs to be resolved, no thrust toward climax and resolution. What there are are motifs and words and images, some of them amazing, a joy to read. In fact, it is this, Butler's constant play with language that drove me to read another of his books, despite my only halfway satisfaction. (That I was satisfied only halfway but read all four hundred pages of text in less than a week says something about how engaging the work is, despite my not being able to put a finger on exactly what happened or what the book even is.)
Motifs are a strong part of the book: family, homes, bugs (most especially ants), death, dreams, the letter O, boxes, light, circles, copies, disease--all these play a part. On the surface, the book is about a family--a father, mother, and son--living in a home. Early on, the family discovers a copy family within their own home. The copy home, discovered later by the dad, hints at one of the book's likely themes: the dark underside of all life--our inevitable deterioration and death. While the real home has two stories with stairs leading up to the second floor, the copy home has two stories with stairs leading down to the bottom. The copy home has no windows, just darkness.
At various points in the book, the family tries to sell the home. The son grows sick. The son befriends a girl at school and goes to her home. The dad goes to a job to stare all day at a computer, at the light in a computer, a job that each day grows farther and farther away, as if the boredom of driving can extend not just time but space. The son too stares into a computer, playing a game that has no point or ending--a figure simply walks across a room on a screen until being haphazardly destroyed, only to be resurrected and start again.
The father clears the family's mailbox of creepy crawlies, merely to find them return in greater numbers each time that he opens the slot. The son worries about ants eating his flesh.
Perhaps, if anything, the book's title hints at the overall trajectory of this work: this is a novel written outside of time. There can be no motivating plot that propels readers on because "there is no year." There is just one long dream that leads, inevitably, toward death or light or whatever one will have these things to be over and over.