The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Begley’s gift for drawing portraits lends flashes of insight to the novel, and character is often revealed not only in description but in the vocabulary and the rhythms of Begley’s style, as when Camilla, speaking of Arthur, tells Max, “Don’t let him come here again. He’s not my kind of pansy.” Begley is especially adept at painting character in brief strokes. On first seeing Toby, Max sees “Eros himself, longhaired and dimpled, his skin the color of pale amber. . . .”

Max Strong is considered an intellectual by the more worldly group with whom he socializes, but he is nevertheless liked and respected, and his inheritance gives him social authenticity. In the beginning, he is somewhat detached from others, confessing that “Relationships did not stick to me,” but he is nevertheless “curious about obligations.” As he prospers, his relationships deepen, and his understanding of the obligations required of human relationships matures. By the novel’s end, he has become wholly attached to Charlie, Toby, and Laura. Max’s transition from outsider to one who finds in human relationships a better understanding of human commitment and suffering is the book’s principal subject.

Charlie Swan teaches Max much about human relationships and sacrifice. Charlie dedicates his life to the pursuit of beauty and its emotional fulfillment. This pursuit is reflected in his relationship with Toby and his profession as an architect, which...

(The entire section is 466 words.)