Conrad Keith Jarrett: He is seventeen at the beginning of the book. Conrad is a self described Anxious Failure who has been serious, responsible, and intelligent his entire life. He feels responsible for everybody around him, and believes that he can exert some control over the actions of others. Conrad is a tenor in the school choir, his one escape, and was a swimmer. He was recently released from a mental institution after eight months; he had attempted suicide using a razor, despondent over the loss of his older brother, Jordan. He is often overcome with guilt and remorse, and will punish himself before his parents do so. He is a perfectionist, a list-maker, and does not have great confidence in his abilities. Despite an essentially restrained personality, throughout the book he becomes more and more expressive with his emotions.

Beth Butler Jarrett: She is thirty-nine, a housewife who nevertheless is very social and active in community affairs. She is from a wealthy family, and looks younger and almost perfect. She will sacrifice herself for this perfectionShe expresses little concern for others, and is too willing to let Conrad be independent. Her main concerns are social: she wants only to keep her family looking respectable. She loved Jordan more than anything, and buried all of her love with Jordan. She will punish both Conrad and Calvin continually for hurting her. She believes that all malicious actions are towards her. Emotion is her enemy, and she frowns upon any mention of Conrad. She was deeply hurt by Conrad's suicide attempt, and has not been the same. Yet she does love Conrad, in her own way, but cannot express it the way he wants.

Calvin Jarrett: He is forty-one, a tax attorney who was orphaned at eleven at the Evangelical Home for Orphans and Old People. He was the student of Arnold Bacon, the best tax attorney around, but the relationship was severed when Cal married Beth. He was once a perfectionist, but after Jordan's death he became filled with questions. He is on a continual search for the true duties of fatherhood and for the kind of man he really is. He is concerned about Conrad, and only wishes happiness for him, even if it means praising him for unimportant actions. He smokes cigars for respite, and occasionally drinks too much when depressed or angry. He feels for a time that life is a series of unconnected and meaningless actions. He is very forgiving of Conrad, and wants to include him in everything.

Dr. Tyrone C. Berger: He is the doctor whom Conrad sees twice a week. He is of an undetermined age, and has a monkey-like quality to him. He is somewhat unprofessional and often feigns eccentricity. Nevertheless, he is very candid to Conrad, and becomes very close to him during the time that they see each other. He has dark hair and eyes which are a sharp, stinging blue.

Jeannine Pratt: She is eighteen, a new girl from Akron who is a talented soprano, applying for a music scholarship at Michigan. She is small, grave, and beautiful. She and Conrad slowly begin a relationship, and she is forward and honest with him about her troubled past. She hopes desperately for her parents to get back together again, even though it is not possible.

Karen Susan Aldrich: She is nineteen, a girl from Skokie who was a friend to Conrad when he was in the mental institution. Yet, when she sees Conrad after they both are released, she is distant and afraid to see him again. She tries to busy her time with activities in order to mask her deep troubles, which have not yet been healed. She commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Jordan (Buck) Jarrett: He is the carefree and spontaneous brother to Conrad Jarrett who died in a boating accident off of Lake Michigan. He was an exceptional swimmer and 'everybody's good friend.'

Minor Characters:

Dr. Crawford: He was Conrad's doctor in the mental institution.

Leo: He was a patient in the mental institution who surmised that Jordan was fine because he could play Scrabble, and thus concentrate.

Joe Lazenby: He was Conrad's best friend during their childhood, but they grew apart after Buck's death. He was the only person who sent Conrad a letter in the hospital, and is his only legitimate friend after he is released. He is the big, blond, sincere-type.

Dick Van Buren: One of Conrad's 'friends.'

Kevin Stillman: He is a diver on the swim team, an undeservedly handsome boy who has an attitude and an inclination to make up stupid statements. Conrad gets into a fight with him when Stillman shows jealousy at the attention Conrad gets.

Mr. Raymond: Conrad's chemistry teacher. He cannot look directly at Conrad anymore.

Faughnan: He is the choir director, a serious student of music who cares about nothing other than his music- not even his appearance. He is the only teacher who treats Conrad the way he wishes to be treated.

Gail Noonan: One of Buck's former dates. She introdues Conrad to Jeannine.

Salan: He is the inconsiderate and moronic swim coach who asks all the wrong questions to Conrad and wants him to center his entire life around swimming.

Ray Hanley: He is Cal's business partner and a longtime friend. He had marital troubles several years before when he had an affair with a secretary, and though the marriage has not failed, he feels that he has lost his daughter. They live in Glencoe.

Nancy Hanley: She is Ray's wife, a woman who dealt with her husband's affair with a legal secretary but forgave him and returned to him out of pure love. She looked up to the Jarretts as an example of wedded bliss.

Stan Carmichael: He is a loudmouth at the mental hospital who declares Conrad profane for attempting suicide.

Robbie Clay: He interrupts Stan's harangue about Conrad. Later, he mutilates himself by setting his genitals on fire.

Cherry: She is the incompetent secretary to Calvin and Ray, nineteen years old with a false smile and a boyfriend from Northwestern. She is unprofessional, bringing her personal problems to work, and she blames Ray for her troubles.

Al Cahill: He is the next door neighbor to the Jarrett family.

Phil Murray: He is an insurance salesman, a boorish man who loves to tell lawyer jokes.

Sara Murray: She is Phil's wife, a tiny woman with an endless supply of energy who flirts with Cal.

Mac Kline: He is a professor at Lake Forest who discusses literature with Beth during the party.

Marty Genthe: She forces Cal to disclose publicly that Conrad is seeing a psychiatrist during the Murray's party.

Suzanne Mosley: She is a girl from school in Conrad's trig class because she failed it the year before. She is overweight, though she was pretty in junior high school. Conrad comforts her after she fails a surprise quiz.

Ed Genthe: He is one of Conrad's 'friends' who complains about the extra attention that Conrad gets from Salan.

Lynn Searles: She was the stern and straight thinking legal secretary- their last good one- who had an affair with Ray.

Carole Lazenby: She is Joe's mother, who is taking courses at the University, including Search for Identity.

Mr. Knight: He is an administrator at school with whom Calvin was supposed to have an appointment.

Mr. Hellwarth: He is an administrator at school with whom Calvin was supposed to have an appointment.

Howard Butler: He is Beth's father, who is known for repeating his numerous cliches.

Ellen Butler: She is Beth's mother, a woman much like Beth who looks much younger than her years. She is a decade behind the times, and constantly nags Conrad, which is nevertheless a good sign.

Mr. Provosky: Algebra teacher.

Sandra Farentino: She is the new legal secretary after Cherry resigned, though she is much like Cherry.

Valerie Hanley: She is Ray's daughter, a college student who has been distant with her father ever since the affair.

Mike Pratt: He is Jeannine's little brother, a thin blond boy who knows Conrad as "the tenor."

Ward Butler: He is Beth's brother, but not at all like her. After moving to Texas, he adopted the entire Texan lifestyle. He is loud in temperament.

Audrey Butler: She is Ward's wife, a well meaning woman.

Paul Ferrier: He is Jeannine's mother's boyfriend, who dated her even when her mother was still married.

Charlie and Kerry Butler: They are Ward and Audrey's children, seven and nine, respectively. Like Jordan and Conrad, Charlie is the daredevil while Kerry is more cautious.

Phil Truan: Genuinely nice guy whom Conrad sees while on a date with Jeannine.

Shirley Day: Phil's date.

Katy Lazenby: Joe's sister, who is now all grown up.