The two main characters are Elizabeth Nye, a 20-year-old German major, and Brian Petersen, the 27-year-old history teaching assistant with whom she has a five-week affair while she's temporarily separated from her liberal-minded fiancé, Alan Abrams.Elizabeth is dishonest and selfish while Brian is naive and idealistic, but virtually no one in this story is either all good or all bad. That's what makes them people rather than stereotypes.
Minor and cameo characters include Elizabeth's self-indulgent academic father, her sexy younger sister, a not-so-merry widowed neighbor, Brian's excessively beloved older sister, his pined-after lost love, that woman's life-hardened lesbian roommate, and a gay friend of Elizabeth's.
The narrative technique involves the use of several different points of view. A given scene may allow the reader to see the same action from starkly contrasting points of view. This reinforces the overarching theme of the book, which is the unending difficulty of human communication.