Roger Lambert is both narrator and principal subject of this novel. As narrator, he serves as the medium through which events in the story are filtered, and his unusual capacity for self-reflection allows readers significant insight into his character. It also nudges readers to adopt his opinions of other characters, however, which may be at variance with the truth. A former pastor and now divinity-school professor, he represents the attitude of many Americans toward religion: For him it has become a form of social psychology and an intellectual exercise, divorced from any of the fervor of faith that characterized believers in earlier ages. He is uncomfortable when a devout believer such as Dale Kohler accosts his complacency. Nevertheless, the author creates him with sufficient sympathy for the reader to see him as a typical Updike hero: a complex individual struggling with desires of both the spirit and the flesh.
Esther Lambert is less well developed, largely because she is seen only through the eyes of her husband. A woman possessed of courage, she is willing to brook social convention to steal Roger from his first wife (ruining his work as a pastor in the process) and then to take up with Dale to fulfill a sexual appetite that her husband cannot satisfy. Though certainly not devoid of intelligence, she serves primarily as a complement to Roger’s overindulgence in intellectual pursuits.
Dale Kohler is a true believer in God; his passion...
(The entire section is 490 words.)