Although Adams has sometimes been criticized for creating only characters from the privileged middle and upper middle class, perhaps only two of the five women whose lives she chronicles fit this description; one of these a frigid bigot and the other a depressed, self-hating martyr who finds herself only by abandoning her life as a suburban housewife, joining a commune of political activists, and taking a woman lover. The other three women are outsiders to the Eastern establishment they have somehow found themselves moving in. Megan Greene, whose consciousness is most central to the novel, is a smart, resourceful (although plump) lower-middle class adventurer from California (her mother works as a carhop); Janet is Jewish; and Cathy a Catholic in WASP territory. In fact, the one character who ends isolated, spiritually barren, and outside the embrace of friendship and rejuvenation is Lavinia, who epitomized social convention, class superiority, and the soul-destroying artificialities of style and narcissistic self-indulgence.

Adams's characters have an emblematic Dickensian quality; they are what they appear to be, like George Wharton: "He looks like what he is, a post-prep school boy from New England. They look the part—Cathy small, dark, and "foreign," Janet "Jewish," Peg large, clumsy, and uncomfortable. Megan and Lavinia, the polar opposites whose antithetical consciousness provides the novel's perspective, are living evidence of their differences— Megan plump, earthy, exuberant, open, and warm, and Lavinia thin, pinched, repressed, devious, and cold— beautiful and remote at first, and then just "Dry. Dry skin, a dry cough, a dry, uh, 'place.'" The "others," however, represent a more expressive sexuality, or at least the mysterious unknown—blacks but also Jewish men: ". . . all dark and brilliant and mysterious. And sexy, all of them: . . . And everyone knows that Jewish boys are smarter; they have to be if they get into Harvard,...

(The entire section is 685 words.)