The narrator is a single writer who lives in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan. Her relationship with “you” is vague and has constantly fluctuating boundaries, though it has been defined as a lifelong friendship. In her youth, the narrator was part of a group of young women writers who deeply admired “you”—a group that he jokingly called his “literary Manson family.” Furthermore, it is revealed that the narrator and “you” did engage sexually at least once.
Over the course of the novel, the narrator insists that her relationship with “you” was overwhelmingly platonic; however, there is evidence that the narrator’s devotion to “you” has kept her away from forming romantic bonds of her own. This is a pattern that is clearly noticed by people in her life, including her therapist, who maintains that she had been in love with “you” for years.
There is an overwhelming sense throughout the story that the narrator’s life is not entirely her own and that, in many ways, she is simply living her life through the context of how she exists in “you’s” life. Much of her struggle and grief can be seen as her coming to terms with this after her friend’s death.
“You” is the character to whom most of the novel is addressed. His suicide is the inciting incident for the novel, and he is already dead before the first chapter begins. Because of this, he is only visible to readers through the lens of the narrator’s opinion.
One of “you’s” foremost qualities is that he is a womanizer. However, he is the kind that “loves women instead of hating them,” which makes him more forgivable in the eyes of the women in his life. He is described as having been very handsome and charming in his youth, and he struggled greatly with the loss of his youth and beauty. It is implied that this could have even been a contributing factor in his suicide.
“You” was a talented writer and enjoyed a relatively successful career, though it was not sufficient to satisfy him. Above all, he was displeased with the declining prestige of the writing profession, and he could not accept the “safer,” or more inclusive, world of writing within academia, perceiving it as counterproductive.
Apollo is the name of the Great Dane that the narrator inherits as a result of “you’s” death. He is an enormous dog that has been visibly traumatized. Already at least five years old, he is well into advanced age and suffers from arthritis. The depression that he feels from having lost his original owner and being repeatedly displaced mirrors the depression that “you” no doubt faced after a number of marriages, neither of them quite measuring up. The narrator makes it her goal to heal Apollo’s depression and make his life comfortable as an act of reconciling with her grief about “you.”
Over the course of the story, Apollo’s spirits seem to improve considerably. He is drawn to the narrator, and the two of them form a genuine bond. In one incredibly poignant moment, the narrator paraphrases Rainer Maria Rilke to describe their relationship as “two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other.”
(The entire section is 841 words.)