Because of the techniques used to tell the story, each of the three main characters is given a complete history, which provides them with significant depth. The minute character history provided by Greeley plus the techniques he chooses to tell this story led one book reviewer to call the novel "an elliptical—and endless— reminiscence." One reader-commentator on an interactive Internet website complained that the novel was overdrawn to the point of pointlessness.
Even with detailed descriptions of their childhoods, parents, failed marriages, clothing and food preferences, working conditions, and so on, Jane Devlin and Fr. Keenan tend to remain spokespersons for social issues. Jane also possesses many of the expected qualities of a romance heroine. Leo Kelly, however, has an easy style and sense of humor which create the aura of a real personality. That his experiences as a POW are responsible for the angry outbursts that weave a few brawling fight scenes into the book may be difficult for some to accept.
The villains are clearly villains, operating more as moral abstractions than as individual beings. Jane's mother represents two Irish traits that have become conventions—intense anxiety to preserve respectability and a tendency to drown reality in drink. (Declan Kiberd's Inventing Ireland (1995), a literary history, provides explanations for the Irish tendency to seek out masks and inhabit alternate realities by detailing the psychological effects of three hundred years of British colonialism on Irish people).
Italian mobsters also figure into the novel. But neither character types nor plot conventions should surprise serious readers of popular fiction. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and T. S. Arthur's Ten Nights in a Barroom (1854) precipitated social awareness and effected social change precisely because they hyperbolized situations and characters.