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Francis is the protagonist of the story and as the novel opens, he is aboard an airplane that is making an emergency crash landing. After he survives the landing, he is a changed man. He is more impulsive and less inhibited. Although his marriage to Julia is comfortable, Francis becomes obsessed with a new teenaged babysitter, Anne. When his wife threatens to leave, he talks her out of it, and he ultimately decides to see a psychiatrist to help him deal with his feelings for Anne.
Julia is Francis’s wife. She is a homemaker who feels that her husband does not fully appreciate her. Julia is very involved in the community’s social life and is popular with the Weeds’s circle of friends. Julia becomes exasperated with the changes she sees in her husband after the plane accident.
Clayton is the son of one of the Weeds’s neighbors. He attends college, but his mother is running out of money. Clayton is honest, opinionated, cynical, and self-aware. He plans to leave school, find a job in New York, and move there with his mother. He also plans to marry Anne when she finishes high school.
Anne is the Weeds’s new babysitter. She reveals to Francis that she is unhappy because of her home life as her father is an alcoholic. Although Francis becomes obsessed with Anne, she seems oblivious to the magnitude of his feelings. When he kisses her, she resists, but nothing else is said about her reaction. Francis learns from Clayton that he and Anne plan to marry when she finishes high school.
At a party, Francis recognizes the maid on duty. He recalls an incident during the war in which a French woman who has lived with a German officer is publicly humiliated by having her head shaved and then being stripped naked. Francis realises that the maid is the woman he remembers. Little else is mentioned about the maid's character.
Dr. Herzog is the psychiatrist whom Francis visits toward the end of the story. After seeing Francis for a week, Dr. Herzog convinces him that he (Francis) needs a distraction to serve as therapy. He suggests woodworking, which Francis takes up.
Gertrude is a little girl who lives in the Weeds’s neighbourhood. She drifts from house to house, either making herself comfortable on other people’s porches or walking right into their homes. Gertrude stays away from home and wears ragged clothes as a form of rebellion. When Francis kisses Anne in his house’s foyer, he is surprised to discover that Gertrude is standing right in the hallway. Gertrude never tells anyone what she has seen.
Mrs. Wrightson is an established member of the Shady Hill community. She is older than Francis and is very hurt when he insults her at the train station. As a result of this insult, she excludes the Weeds from her anniversary party.
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