Taggert Faeley Hodge
Taggert Faeley Hodge, a gifted man of forty years, plagued by bad luck, which transforms a gentle idealist into the cynical, fire-scarred Sunlight Man. Having failed in all of his efforts to save his wife from insanity and his children from death, he returns to his native Batavia, New York. He is arrested for painting the word “love” on a city street, and he begins using magic tricks to undermine people’s faith in law and order and in love. His four “dialogues” with Police Chief Fred Clumly, following the Sunlight Man’s escape, are at once seriously learned and blackly humorous, intelligent and insane. Set apart from the rest of humankind as much by his despair and nihilism as by his stench and blasted appearance, he chooses in the end to give himself up, only to be shot dead by a nervous police officer.
Fred Clumly, Batavia’s sixty-four-year-old police chief. His beady eyes, large nose, and white, completely hairless body make him a particularly conspicuous figure, especially at the funerals he likes to attend. One year short of retirement, he has become increasingly critical of the modern age. As the crime rate soars, his frustrations, weariness, and paranoia grow, fueled by his noble but decidedly old-fashioned belief in personal responsibility. In a highly irregular maneuver, he agrees to meet secretly with the Sunlight Man following the latter’s escape. As a result, he loses his job but acquires a deeper understanding of who and what the Sunlight Man is. This understanding culminates in the speech Clumly delivers at the end of the novel, which enables him to rise above the merely personal and to affirm those “connections” that bind self to community and the individual to the ideal.
Arthur Hodge, Sr.
Arthur Hodge, Sr., a congressman and patriarch, the builder of Stony Hill, the now-ruined family estate. He was a man of superior mind and virtue blessed by good fortune. His absolutism, perfection, and idealism come to tyrannize his survivors as they try to live in a less pastoral, more ambiguous age, which the congressman himself foresaw. His wholeness of being and vision lives on in fragmented form, in the specializations of each of his children.
Will Hodge, Sr.
Will Hodge, Sr., the oldest of the congressman’s five children. A country lawyer and inveterate toggler committed to shoring up the fragments against last year’s ruins, he is a dependable, rueful man, “comfortable in the cage of his limitations” but burdened by guilt and the responsibility he feels for his former wife, his two sons, and his brother Tag, indeed for all humankind.
Millie Jewel Hodge
Millie Jewel Hodge, Will’s former wife. Born poor, she tries to win the love of Ben Hodge, drawn by his strength and freedom. Rejected, she takes her revenge by marrying Will (whom she does come to love briefly) and by destroying Stony Hill, and the Hodges with it. Imprisoned by the Sunlight Man, she struggles to maintain her existential autonomy—“I exist, no one else”—but fails. Seeing Tag and hearing the news of her son Luke’s death restores this Circe to the world of forgiveness and love.
Luke Hodge, Millie and Will’s twenty-two-year-old son. He has an enormous tolerance for the pain caused by his own histamine headaches and his having witnessed his parents’ endless bickering. His elephantine ears undermine his romantic tragic-hero pose, just as his will to believe undermines his hard-earned yet nevertheless not-entirely-convincing cynicism. Kept a prisoner in his own house by the Sunlight Man (his uncle), Luke undergoes a significant change. He transforms his adolescent rage into a selfless but suicidal act that will put a stop to the Sunlight Man’s madness and Nick Slater’s murders. Although Luke dies alone (Tag and Nick having jumped from the truck sometime before Luke drives it off the bridge), it is Luke’s death that prompts Tag to give himself up.
Ben Hodge, a large but gentle dairy farmer and lay preacher, fifty years old. Married to Vanessa, a cartoonishly fat but very friendly schoolteacher, he finds his freedom in his visionary sermons and in riding his motorcycle. In his youth, he betrayed Millie Jewel’s love, but as an adult he has been both faithful and generous toward others.
(The entire section is 1825 words.)