Sydney Sklar is a graduate student in psychology taking time off to spend the summer on the New Hampshire coast tutoring the teenage child of a well-to-do family. At 29, she has already been married twice. One marriage ended in divorce, the other left her a widow. When she arrives at the Edwards’s home, she hasn’t been with a man in over two years, and perhaps has forgotten what it’s like. As an only child of divorce (her Unitarian mother left her Jewish father for another man when she was young), Sydney has no concept of how deep and fierce sibling rivalry between two brothers can be. She endears herself to the family (with the exception of the somewhat anti-Semitic mother) and nurtures Julie’s artistic potential.
Jeff Edwards, 31, is a professor of political science at M.I.T. Sydney’s first impressions of him are that he often seems distracted, perhaps calculating the GDP of some far-off country. He has a rather perfect girlfriend named Victoria, with whom he rather abruptly breaks up and then begins to pursue Sydney. At the moment of their first kiss, he says, “Ben will be so jealous.” His competitive nature and an easily ignited kind of wanderlust are hidden beneath an outwardly charming demeanor.
Ben Edwards, 35, is the eldest child of the Edwards family. He works in corporate real estate in Boston and is somewhat of a gourmand. His immediate attraction for Sydney is obvious to his brother, but not to her. Not as driven to compete as Jeff, Ben denies his own feelings for Sydney, even as their relationship deepens. But when a falling out with his brother causes a rift between the two, he is willing to take the first steps toward reconciliation.
Julie Edwards, 18, is the beautiful, sweet, but not-too-smart youngest child of the Edwards family. After almost drowning at age seven, she’s stayed away from the water. She is afraid of the ocean, but also of her own talents and desires. At Sydney’s urging, she begins to explore her artistic impulses, painting beautiful still-life portraits of pears. She also spends more time down by the water, and meets the beautiful female surfer with whom she will eventually run off to Canada.