Characters

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The Narrator

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.

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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”/The Friend

“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

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.”

Wife One

“You’s” first spouse, simply referred to as “Wife One,” is described as his “true love.” The two are said to have loved each other so passionately and intensely that it was prone to make others around them jealous and resentful, as they shared a relationship that not many people ever get to experience. Wife One reconnects with the narrator at “you’s” memorial service, as both have been acquainted with him since he was young. The narrator describes being around them when they were married as being “near a furnace.”

Wife Two

Wife Two is “you’s” second spouse and the source of immense grief and strife for him. Their time together is described as an incredibly dark point in his life. Wife Two could not get over her jealousy toward other women in “you’s” world and was deeply affected by her perception that she did not measure up to “you’s” love for Wife One. She is also deeply resentful towards the narrator and cannot be convinced that the relationship between the narrator and “you” is platonic. At one point in the story, she offers to take Apollo, but the narrator refuses, certain that Wife Two means to hurt him, if only passively.

Wife Three

Wife Three is the woman to whom “you” was married at the time of his death and, it is clear, the least extreme. Having had an upbringing fraught with hardship and responsibility, she had a tendency to balance out some of “you’s” more hysterical attributes. When the narrator meets Wife Three after the memorial, she seems polite but remote. It is Wife Three who charges the narrator with taking care of Apollo, as she seems keen to travel and finally take some of her life for herself.

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Themes