When David Hankins goes to college in the mid-1980s he puts aside his boyhood rock and roll dreams to pursue a career in advertising, at least until he meets Carrie, who persuades him to form a band that he calls XL. After XL's bass player flunks out of school, David recruits Carrie's aimless but talented brother Rick to join the band. But just when XL is on the verge of something big, Rick stages a mutiny, forces David out, and goes on to rock stardom. After David marries Carrie, Rick's success serves as an ever-present reminder of the dream that didn't come true. With help from a charismatic (and enormous) soul singer, a wise elderly lawyer, and a Beatles-obsessed friend with personal damage of his own, David strives to find peace in the shadow of the brother-in-law whose success haunts him.
Part prolonged existential crisis, part rock and roll fantasy, and similar in tone to Nick Hornby's work, XL is a wry and funny male confessional that ultimately reads like a love letter from a man to his wife and kids.