Anna, the “good mother,” captures the sympathy of the reader from the start. As narrator, she shares her innermost thoughts with the reader, as well as her life and the characters who inhabit it. The story is told about four years after the events, and from Anna’s changing perceptions of the other characters, it is clear that she has grown wiser. Although she gains a deeper appreciation of the value of a real family, Anna is also proud of the way she has “made do” with her own circumstances. Yet the novel is ambiguous; although Anna never sinks into self-pity, conditions suggest that she is a victim.
Brian, Anna’s former husband, appears to be a thoroughly decent man, but he and Anna have a tepid relationship, and she is frigid throughout their marriage. When Brian’s law firm transfers him from Boston to Washington, Anna suggests that they separate. He has an affair with another woman who later becomes his wife while his marriage with Anna is dissolving. Later, when Anna discusses Brian with her psychiatrist in preparation for the custody battle, she wonders if he is not unconsciously punishing her for hurting him. Brian’s horror at the sexual indiscretions with Molly reflects the views of society at large, for he is a man who plays by the rules.
Leo, Anna’s lover, represents not only the sexual fulfillment that Anna lacked in her marriage but also a passionate approach to life that nobody in Anna’s circle has ever held. He...
(The entire section is 475 words.)