Below are partial character descriptions for three important characters in Part I of the Reserve & Green trilogy. These were lifted directly from my notes, which I didn’t write with the intention of sharing, so you’ll find half-sentences, weird grammar and other oddities.
Smart, determined, afraid, determined not to be afraid. Beautiful, but in a severe way. Self-reliant to a fault. Doesn’t smile all that much — she recognizes that it is a way in which people, especially women, subordinate themselves to others, and she wants none of that. She wants to be seen as an equal, and she unconsciously assumes she has to fight for that. The ferocious way in which she protects her own self-worth belies its fragility.
How did her ego get so brittle? Her mother died in a car accident when she was four. Her father was weak and needy, leaning on her way more than she could ever lean on him. She essentially raised herself. She has no siblings. Her father descended into alcoholism, and when he died in her early twenties it was a relief. The lack of stable care-takers around her caused her to bury her insecurities, vulnerabilities and needs, and build an edifice of strength, control and independence over those soft places. This is the Vicky that the world sees.
Most of the time, Vicky is merged with this constructed persona, committed to the mask she is wearing so fully that she is not aware that it is a mask at all. Occasionally, however, the self-doubt, fear, confusion and pain she has forced into the shadows of her psyche will emerge, and because they are so cordoned off from her conscious personality, they arrive in a concentrated form, and are frighteningly disorienting to her.
Vicky was an excellent student and received a full ride through medical school. She assumed the position of head physician in the ER/ICU at Franciscan Medical Center at age 31. She is completely devoted to her work, and routinely works 60 or 70 hours in a week. Now, at 36, she has proven all of her nay-sayers wrong and leads the ER/ICU with a steely calm and a breathtaking efficiency.
Vicky’s primary human connections are with her co-workers, but she would call none of them friends. She is respected by some of them, disliked by others, and somewhat feared by all. Her relationships with other people are noteworthy for what they are not. They are not casual, or particularly joyful. They do not feed her or support her. She doesn’t “hang out," or “have fun," or “party" — these are all concepts that feel foreign to her, and which she judges as false or trivial in others. Mostly, people exhaust her.
The exception to this rule is in her relationships with her patients. As a doctor, she exhibits a kindness, gentleness, and atunement to her patients’ needs that consistently surprises her co-workers. She is capable of being curt to a nurse in one moment and warm to a patient in the next. A cynic would guess that this nurturance is just a tool, something she learned to do because it was necessary for her success, and that it is therefore shallow and hollow, performed by rote. A more generous interpretation is that she has a deep need to give (and receive) nurturance, but that the only avenue in which she feels safe to access this need is in the doctor-patient relationship, where the roles are prescribed, the contact is defined and limited, and she holds the power position. Because her dominance is obvious in this context, she doesn’t need to defend it so ardently, and bits of her hidden self become visible — her sense of humor, her authentic concern for the well-being of others, and her love of music.
Besides her patients, the only other tenderness Vicky regularly expresses is toward her cat, a sleek, black, six-toed character named Charlie. She loves him with all her heart and shows this love unabashedly in word and deed.
Jack pretends to smoke so he can stand outside every couple of hours. Usually he goes to the roof of the hospital.
He was raised in Cabrini Green in Chicago, and left just before they tore it down. He has never met his father. His mother is Puerto Rican, and he has a huge number of siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles in the midwest and in Puerto Rico. He is the only one of this clan who has left Chicago in two generations. Since he moved away, he has not come back.
Growing up, Jack spent as much time as possible on the lakeshore. He walked there after school to do his homework, and spent as much of the weekend there as he could. He even slept there some nights. He felt sick inside Cabrini Green, and in fact he did develop serious asthma there. Through his own breathing problems he was exposed to the medical establishment, and got the idea of becoming a respiratory therapist when he was in middle school — an idea that seemed too lofty and ridiculous to even say out loud. At the pressing of a teacher in high school, however, he did reveal this dream, and she took a special interest in helping him accomplish it. She was the first of many women to be drawn to Jack’s intelligence, quiet confidence and subtle charm. Although no boundaries were crossed between them, he sensed her interest in him had some non-platonic elements to it, which both intrigued and repulsed him, making him feel both powerful and suspicious of supposed “helpers."
With her guidance, however, he succeeded in high school, which allowed him to attend college. He worked as a hospital custodian and continued to live at home while in school. He earned his respiratory therapy degree when he was 21 years old. Immediately after graduating he bought a train ticket to Fargo, North Dakota, where he had secured a job in the hospital. He has steadily moved west ever since, staying only a year or two in any one place, always able to find work in a hospital.
When the story opens, Jack has been living in Missoula and working at Franciscan Medical Center for around short time. He’s popular with the staff, making friends with the men and charming the women. He is too smart, however, to truly enjoy the company of many of his peers. He plays along, but he finds a lot of the conversation boring, the partying uninspired, and the pillow talk crushingly mindless. This dissatisfaction with his peer group has fueled his resentment of — and interest in — the higher social echelons around him, particularly the doctors. Now that he has realized his respiratory therapy dream, he can see that he aimed too low. He could have been a doctor. He’s plenty smart enough. The fact no one even suggested that to him, and that it never occurred to him either burns inside of him. Now, in his early 30s, he feels it is too late.
Jack responds to Vicky with a combination of attraction, envy, admiration and anger. The intensity of his feelings about her — in all directions — surprises him. As the story slowly draws them toward each other, they find each other increasingly confusing and compelling.
Cassie is a 19-year-old college student, the only child of a wealthy Marin County couple. Her mother is one of five female CEOs of a Fortune 100 company; her father inherited billions from his family of New York City real estate barons and has never worked a day in his life. She is their only child, and has been simultaneously micro-managed and ignored by them. Up until now, she has been a “good girl," fulfilling their expectations for achievement and rebelling only in quiet, private ways (she flirted with an eating disorder, prescription drug addictions, and cutting, none of which they were remotely aware of).
The first overtly rebellious thing Cassie’s ever done is insist on going to college in Missoula. She could have gone anywhere, and was definitely expected to choose an Ivy League education, but she insisted on Missoula, and her parents were appalled — they feel she has chosen a red neck, dead-end backwater, and is wasting the opportunities they have given her. As punishment, they are paying only for her tuition, room and board, and giving her no spending money. Cassie’s return blow was to get trained as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and get a job at Franciscan Medical Center. Her parents are exasperated and embarrassed of her job and all of her recent choices. Cassie is conflicted, but insistent. She doesn’t know why, but she feels she must live closer to wilder, less densely populated places, not only for rebellion’s sake," but with a growing sense of fear and foreboding. She has lived for years with strong intuitive sensations tugging her in odd directions, which she has tried to ignore. Her choice to move to Montana marks a turning point — she will not, or cannot, ignore these instincts any longer.