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Andy is the novel's central character, its narrator and protagonist. He comes across as intelligent and clever (which are not always the same thing), self-analytical and self-absorbed (which are definitely not the same thing), and above all determined to understand himself as fully as possible. This is clearly different from Dag, who seems content with a superficial self-understanding, and Claire, whose self-understanding comes about almost by accident. At the same time, however, and in terms of his outer life (as opposed to his more actively searching inner life), Andy is very much a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, not much inclined to take deliberate, decisive action - he tends to not only let life happen to him but to watch it and note it down, not really participating. This makes the occasions when he does make active choices (the purchase of the candles and the decision to join his friends in Mexico - both of which, interestingly enough, at the end of the book when he's nearing the end of his process of self-evolution) even more notable and more relevant to his journey and the narrative of that journey.
On a technical level, an interesting question about Andy is whether he's a fully reliable narrator, whether what he says can entirely be trusted. The question arises as the result of what he himself admits - that he and his friends tell stories the way they do in an effort to conceal uncomfortable truths about themselves. Since he is essentially telling the reader a story, that reader might be reasonable to wonder what Andy is hiding in telling the story the way he does. It must be remembered, however, that of the three central characters Andy is the only one who, right from the beginning admits to the strains of truth in his stories. It must also be remembered that in Chapter 1, while he's revealing to the reader the story he's telling Dag, he's also revealing to the reader the truth of what he's feeling. This, then, can be interpreted as a suggestion that Andy's words, his perceptions and interpretations, can be considered to be truthful ... a thematically relevant suggestion, in fact, that no matter what attempts are made to conceal it, human and individualized truth will ultimately surface.
Dag is short for Dagmar, a name usually given to women. Why he has this particular name is never explained, but its sexual ambiguity can perhaps be seen as a manifestation of his personal sexual ambiguity (he is attracted to Elvissa, but also seems to be in love, at least to some degree, with Andy). A self described vandal, Dag takes pleasure in destroying, both physically and verbally, manifestations of yuppiness and materialism. This is perhaps because, as he apparently explained to Andy (see Chapters 3, 4 and 5), he knows all too well how soul killing too much materialism actually is. The particularly interesting thing about Dag is that there is no significant reference to his family or to how they've specifically defined his life. Yes, there is a certain generic reference to how his parents have ruined his life and there is also a passing reference to a supportive brother, but unlike Claire and Andy seems almost to have emerged whole into the world, without anyone actually having given birth to him.
Of the three friends, Dag is the one who seems most resistant to facing the truth about himself, the most uncomfortable with learning to face the truth, and the one who fails to make a journey of transformation towards that truth. It's ironic, in fact, that he vandalizes what he says are symbols and/or manifestations of lies while at the same time continuing to manufacture similar symbols (e.g., his stories).
Claire is Andy's other best friend, of the same age (mid to late twenties) and employed at the perfume counter of a large department store. She is described as preferring to dress with an eye to be noticed, in retro clothes that have a style of their own. She is also described as wanting to give whatever children she might have retro names, "names like people have in diners." These last two characteristics can be seen as indications that she, like Andy, lives her life anchored in/defined by the past, and an idealized past at that.
Of the three central characters, Claire is the most volatile, the most emotional, and the most connected to her own feelings. At the same time, however, she is easily run by her feelings, unable to assert any kind of conscious control over them - and, perhaps by implication, her life. Examples - she reacts with panicky fear to the spilling of the beads, even though she is repeatedly reassured they are not radioactive, she reacts with uninhibited, irrational lust to Tobias, and when she finds out he's involved with Elvissa, reacts with equally uninhibited anger. Impulsive and prone to eccentricity (i.e., her semi-serious determination to find the love of her life with the timely-appearing dowsing stick), she is perhaps the most colorfully defined of the three friends. Her journey of transformation as she moves away from hiding her true self behind her stories and echoes and illuminates Andy's, and also reinforces how Dag hasn't taken the same kind of journey.
Otis, Edward and Linda
These three individuals are, on a superficial level, heroes of stories told by Dag, Andy and Claire respectively. On another level, however, they can be seen as avatars, pseudonyms, alternative identities, living the lives and revealing the truths of the people who tell their stories. In other words, in telling their stories about these three characters, Dag, Andy and Claire all reveal truths about themselves that they otherwise feel they could not reveal. Otis, Edward and Linda are masks, albeit not too effective ones - the reader can easily see the truths behind those masks, and chances are the other characters, those to whom the stories are told, can as well (although the book never explicitly says that this is the case).
A full blooded yuppie (see below) Tobias is the embodiment of everything Andy, Claire and Dag claim to not want to be. It's important to note, however, that at first they are as much in denial about their true natures as Tobias is, but where he masks his human vulnerabilities, needs and feelings with acquisitions, they mask theirs in stories. In any case, even in those few moments when Tobias seems to be non-yuppie-ish and living with genuine emotion (i.e., the telling of his story in Chapter 17), the narrative eventually reveals his essential selfishness. In those moments, he is still pursuing acquisitions ...the goodwill of Claire, Dag and Andy, and the sexual attention of Elvissa (which he eventually, and without conscience, acquires). His final appearance, as a ranting selfishness following his breakup with Claire, he reveals the true extent of his superficiality - but the reader might well wonder, at that point, what it is exactly that he's so afraid of that he reacts to the truth (Claire's anger) with such violent rejection?
Elvissa is Claire's best friend, a pale and ethereal sort (there is something vaguely vampiric about the way she's described, which is not altogether appropriate, given that she sucks the emotional blood out of Claire's relationship with Tobias). She claims to be an advocate of unpurchased, fully lived truth, but then later in the narrative turns out to be a self-serving liar. In short, she is a manifestation of the dark side of the positive journey into the light of self-hood undertaken by the other characters and celebrated in the novel as a whole - her desire for Tobias, undeniably an expression of HER (sexual) self, ultimately turns out to be destructive (at least to a point) to Claire.
Curtis appears in Chapter 18 as the somewhat romantic hero in Elvissa's story of reunited love and selflessness. Physically and emotionally scared, he can be seen as representing (at least for Elvissa and perhaps for the novel as a whole) the pain of those who have suffered growing up in what Andy defines as Generation X. It's interesting to note that the novel never really makes it clear whether he was/is rejuvenated by what Elvissa claims to be her efforts at bringing some truth and energy back into his life - but then because Elvissa turns out to be something of a liar, it can probably be safely assumed that he isn't.
Tyler is Andy's younger brother, an intriguing combination of yuppie (see below) and Generation X-er, as lost and confused as Andy but somehow aware (and perhaps sub-consciously jealous) that Andy is striving to make something different of himself and his life. There is the sense, however, that for whatever reason Tyler will be unable and/or unwilling to do with his life what Andy is doing with his.
Andy's parents, who continue to live in the family home in Portland, Oregon, are seen/portrayed by him as the causes of his current disappointment with his life. It's an important step along his journey of transformation (letting go of blaming his past for his present uncertainty) that when he visits them at Christmas, he comes to see them as fundamentally decent people, who can't really be blamed for the way they strove to give him a good life actually made him confused and uncertain.
Mr. MacArthur is the sensitive, affable owner/manager of the bar where Dag and Andy both work. He is derided by both of them as being hopelessly middle class and having no real thought of and/or interest in his life, but in spite of Andy's politely dismissive description of his life, actually comes across as somewhat content, if shallowly so.
"Yuppie" is a term that, in the twenty or so years since it came into popular usage, has taken on quite a derogatory meaning. An abbreviation of the term "young urban professional," it originally was shorthand for a group of individuals defined by their living in cities, their middle-class hunger for symbols of success, and their desire for those symbols to be interpreted as meaning they were/are in fact upper class. In other words, yuppies were (are?) materialistic, greedy, shallow, and hungry for sensation - everything Andy and his friends perceive Tobias as being, and everything Tobias eventually reveals himself to be.
This section contains 1,739 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)