Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 532
Rachel Samstat, the narrator/protagonist, a thirty-eight-year-old cookbook writer and mother married to Mark Feldman, a syndicated columnist who is having an affair with another woman. Rachel (modeled on Ephron herself) discovers the affair when she is seven months pregnant. She flees to New York City when Mark informs her that he is in love with Thelma Rice. Despite the humiliation, Rachel still loves Mark, a feeling she cannot understand or justify but one she views with comic detachment as she reexamines her two failed marriages, her relationship with her parents and friends, her cookbooks, and her pregnancy, all the while suffering from “terminal heartburn.” Rachel suspects that her cooking is to blame for Mark’s affair because cooking has become her way of saying “I love you,” and it is not sufficient for a man who is very sexual. She earns the reader’s sympathy with her self-deprecating humor as she deals with the vagaries of life in two of America’s largest cities. Rachel is the only fully rounded character in the novel.
Mark Feldman, Rachel’s husband, a syndicated columnist loosely based on Carl Bernstein, the celebrated Watergate investigator. He has a black beard with a small white stripe on the left side of his chin. His affair with Thelma Rice has been going on since Rachel became pregnant, and he was unfaithful to Rachel even before their marriage. Mark not only lies to his wife about his affair but also pursues couples therapy with the other woman. He tells Rachel he loves Thelma but insists that Rachel stay with him until the birth of their second child (another son) for the sake of appearances.
Thelma Rice, Mark’s lover. Her extramarital affairs are legendary in Washington. She is married to Jonathan, a State Department official who bugs his own house to eavesdrop on her affairs. He tries to convince Rachel to take Mark back because he wants Thelma to stay with him. Thelma becomes angry with Rachel over a rumor Rachel starts about Thelma having a sexually transmitted disease, but she sees nothing wrong in wrecking other people’s marriages.
Julie Siegel and
Arthur Siegel, Rachel and Mark’s best friends. They are traveling and eating companions and try to patch up the broken marriage.
Vera Maxwell, Rachel’s fifty-eight-year-old therapist. She is beautiful, caring, happily married, and always right. Vera forces Rachel to face Mark’s betrayal and start over.
The Samstats, Rachel’s parents. He is an entertainer and she an agent who became wealthy by investing in Tampax. Bebe, the wife, thinks she finds God in a man named Mel, who believes he truly is God and robs her of every cent she has. Rachel’s father marries the maid and later ends up in a mental hospital.
Richard Finkel, Rachel’s tall, red-haired producer and former lover, whose wife is also having an affair. He drunkenly and loudly proposes to Rachel in Central Park and then falls into the seal pond.
Betty Searle, Rachel’s best friend, who helps her through the hard times with Mark.
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