Ruth - Ruthie is the narrator of the story. She narrates from the perspective of the Transparent eyeball. This narration style was used by the transcendentalist authors that influenced Marilynne Robinson, including Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Lucille - Ruth's younger sister.
Helen the mother of Ruthie and Lucille who commits suicide.
Sylvie Helen's younger sister who comes to Fingerbone to take care of Ruthie and Lucille.
Molly Helen's older sister. Molly left Fingerbone to do missionary work as a bookkeeper in the Honan Province of China.
Sylvia Foster Ruthie's Grandmother. Sylvia lived her entire life in Fingerbone, accepted the basic religious dogma of an afterlife, and lived her life accordingly.
Edmund Foster Ruthie's Grandfather and Sylvia's husband. He was raised in a house, dug out of the ground, in the Middle West. He is consumed with wanderlust and a desire to paint mountains. This desire leads to his job on a train and the related events form the foundation of the novel. Working on the train, he is killed in its crash into the lake of Fingerbone.
Lily Foster Sylvia Foster's sister-in-law, one of two who came from Spokane to care for Ruthie.
Nona Foster Sylvia Foster's other sister-in-law.
Bernice is a friend of Helen's who lived below Ruthie and her mom, Helen, when they lived in a tall grey building. Bernice urged Helen to visit her estranged mother and lent Helen her car so she could travel to see her. (the same car Helen used to drive herself off the bridge)
Ettie is a friend of Ruthie's Grandmother, Sylvia Foster. A tiny old lady, whose skin was the color of toadstools.