Todd Andrews, a fifty-four-year-old lawyer living alone in the Dorset Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. An expensive dresser, cigar smoker, and chronicler of his own life, he suffers heart and prostate trouble. He fancies that he resembles actor Gregory Peck. Never married, he enjoys an intimate relationship with Jane Mack, his best friend’s wife. He claims he is not a philosopher, yet he makes a habit of applying his own eccentric notions to his own and other people’s lives, often with grim results. He passes through various “poses” through the years (including misanthropic hermitism, cynicism, and Buddhist “sainthood”) until one day in 1937 he decides to kill himself because he has come to believe that life has no intrinsic value. Foiled in his attempt at self-destruction, he accepts the proposition that perhaps there are, after all, relative values.
Harrison Mack, a pickle magnate. His meeting with Todd in 1925 changes his life dramatically. A large, muscular, amiable, handsome, and intelligent man, he professes Marxism in his youth and is disinherited. Inspired by Todd, he also takes on various poses, one of which results in his encouraging his wife to sleep with Todd. He adheres to what he regards as sophisticated moral and social values but lacks the inner strength to accept the consequences of some of these values.
Jane Mack, Harrison’s wife, about twenty-six years old when she commences her affair with Todd in 1932. Beautiful and athletic, she is described by Todd as a woman who leaves nothing to be desired. Her problem is a too-rigid adherence to values imposed on her by her husband, which results in her own partial loss of...
(The entire section is 721 words.)