Gabe Wallach is meant to be a complex and thoughtful character, but actually he is overshadowed by the other characters in the book. When the reader first encounters him, he is brooding over the death of his mother and involved in a moral and psychological struggle with his father. He later has an affair with Martha Reganhart, a young divorcée who loses custody of her two small children because of her relations with him. Later, when one of the children accidentally kills the other while they are away with their father, Martha breaks off the affair. Gabe feels heartbroken, guilty, and wounded. Meanwhile he has been involved with his friends Paul and Libby Herz. He is drawn to the thin, neurotic Libby, although Paul is his best friend. Finally, after he has helped Paul and Libby adopt a baby, he embarks for Europe, to mend his emotional wounds and continue his search for his identity.
Paul Herz, however, passes through even greater tribulations. Married to the intense, hysterical Libby, who is always suffering from physical and emotional problems, Paul wants to accomplish something great but never seems to be able to make any progress. The Herzes suffer from both poverty and a kind of will to doom; their marriage often seems grim and cannibalistic, despite the few moments of real affection that creep into the narrative. After her abortion, Libby develops kidney trouble which makes it dangerous for her to have a child. Eventually, Paul lands a good job in...
(The entire section is 463 words.)