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Wagner, Berger's protagonist, resembles other Berger heroes who begin as naive seekers and undergo a series of initiations to find enlightenment. Wagner is less obtuse then Russell Wren, the foolishly innocent private detective of Who Is Teddy Villanova? (1977) but he lacks the sophistication of the Reinhart who appears in Reinhart's Women (1981; see separate entry).

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Aside from Wagner, all the other characters, although well drawn, play secondary roles. Oddly enough, Wagner's ineffectual qualities seem to make him attractive to those who know him best—his friend Roy Pascal and his estranged wife Carla. These characters are portrayed as likable people, particularly because of their kindness to Wagner, although his innocence frequently annoys them. Such characterizations reveal a mellow side in Berger's comedy.

The other characters, except for Catherine—the romantic heroine who enters near the novel's end—display an abundance of comic traits. Especially memorable for their selfishness and callousness are Zirko, the arrogant sculptor, and the pair (Polly Todvik and the building superintendent, Glen) who use Wagner's apartment during his absence for their free-lance prostitution business.

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