An average upper-middle-class middle-aged man, Francis Weed fulfills social expectations. He has a home in the suburbs, a wife and children, and a job in the city. He feels sadly unfulfilled at home though. Reminded of his mortality by a plane crash that narrowly avoids being disastrous, he finds his family distant and chaotic and is drawn to an inappropriate relationship with a teenage babysitter. He feels a desire to rebel against social constraints but is ultimately ashamed of his actions and resigns himself to his role.
Anne Murchison is a teen girl who earns money babysitting. Her father is a drunk, and she is crushed when he calls her immoral. She finds some comfort in the attentions of her employer, although she is engaged to a much younger man named Clayton Thomas.
Julia Weed is a charming suburban socialite who uses parties to stave off loneliness. She keeps her home pristine, and although she can't avoid the emotional outbursts of her children, she usually manages to ignore them. What bothers her most is her husband's criticism, which can reduce her to tears. Julia is unaware of her husband's real feelings, although she interprets some of his behavior as signs of subconscious hatred toward her. She seems to have strength when she initially determines to leave her husband after he strikes her, but she is eventually persuaded to stay, suggesting that she is afraid to be on her own.
Polite but direct, Clayton Thomas is a young man who comes from a single-parent household. As an outsider to affluent Shady Hill, Clayton believes that appearances are deceiving when it comes to the suburbs. He disapproves of drunken parties and efforts to keep certain people out of the community. Lack of financial means leads Clayton to seek work rather than continue college. He is determined to make his own way in the world, and he is willing to work to get it, especially because he wants to start a life with his fiancée, Anne Murchison, whom he adores.