Dave Galloway, a watchmaker and repairer with his own small shop in Everton, New York. He is the novel’s center of consciousness. Forty-three years old, a good citizen, and an ordinary, happy man not much given to reflection, at the opening of the novel Dave has still to learn the “secret in men” which he hopes to communicate at the novel’s close to the grandson who will shortly be born to his imprisoned son. The alienation and purposelessness of the modern hero are registered in the details of his drab small-town existence: his lack of friends, his retreat from women, and his clockworklike home habits and work routines. So contracted is his life that he depends almost entirely for love and recognition—for a very sense of self—on the son to whom he has been both father and mother since his wife Ruth left him fifteen years ago, when Ben was an infant. Dave attempts not simply to understand why Ben has stolen and murdered but also to assert the unbroken continuity and closeness of their relationship. Dave’s bewildered attempt to do so comes in the face of the fact that Ben has severed his ties with the past and his father, refusing even to acknowledge his presence in court. As a result of his quest to maintain a relationship with Ben, Dave confronts his own deeply buried desire to rebel (which drove him to marry the town tramp) and that of his long-dead father. Through such a quasi-mystical sense of heredity, he can cling to a sense of identity with Ben.
Ben Galloway, Dave’s sixteen-year-old-son, quiet and self-possessed, a good...
(The entire section is 661 words.)