But then it wouldn't be the first time he’s disappeared out of my life with little more than a backward glance. Like when suddenly he had some shiny new parents ready to whisk him away to a magical new life of private schools [...] As I said, my brother’s always been good at getting people to fall in love with him.

Despite being siblings, Jess and her brother have lived very different lives. Adopted by a wealthy family, Ben had access to privileges that were entirely out of Jess’ reach; he attended private schools, went to Cambridge University, and enjoyed regular vacations. Jess, in comparison, experienced grave hardships while being bounced around the foster care system. This quote reflects the bitter jealousy that Jess cannot help but feel despite her love for her brother. Further, Jess feels that Ben neglected to share his privileges, relegating her to the past and offering little help to her despite the greater resources available to him. In his own narrative, Ben acknowledges his own feelings of guilt for turning his back on Jess, who lacks his easy social graces.  

Their very different outcomes have been impacted by their different socioeconomic status, but also by their different personalities. While Ben has a knack for ingratiating himself with others, saying the right thing and modifying his behavior to suit his audience, Jess lacks both his chameleon-like ability to adapt and his strong desire to please others. Throughout the course of the novel, however, it becomes apparent that Ben’s overconfidence in his ability to manipulate others has gotten him into grave trouble. As he flatters the Meuniers and worms his way into their lives, he has little sense of the danger that he is getting himself into.  

When I married Jacques I understood it as an exchange. My youth and beauty for his wealth. Over the years [...] my worth only diminished as his increased. I knew what I was getting into, and for the most part I do not regret my choice. But maybe I hadn’t reckoned with the loneliness, the empty hours.

When Sophie, originally named Sofiya, first immigrated from Russia, she sought employment at La Petite Mort, where she worked as a dancer and sex worker. In many ways, she was one of the “lucky” girls, marrying the wealthy owner of the club and gaining a stability that few of the other dancers at the club could hope for. After many years of neglect and mistreatment, however, Sophie comes to realize that her marriage is just another form of exchange and she is, in some ways, still in a position similar to that of a sex worker, trading her body for money.  

Because she does not have a job, she feels that she has little to offer except her “youth and beauty,” and as she ages, she cedes more and more power to her increasingly wealthy husband. She realizes that Jacques, who previously married a woman wealthier than himself, picked her as his second wife precisely because he views her as being far beneath him. Their asymmetrical relationship allows him to maintain power over her. At first, she felt that she had no illusions about the transactional nature of her marriage. Now, however, she feels that she did not account for the loneliness when making that decision. While Jacques travels for business and, she assumes, conducts affairs, Sophie feels trapped in the “gilded cage” of her apartment, buying expensive lingerie that nobody will ever see and carefully maintaining a figure that nobody appreciates.

They nodded at me. They have never liked me, never approved of me. But in their father’s absence they were hanging on my every word. Wanting to be told what to do, how to act. They have never really grown up, either of them. Jacques never allowed them to.

Sophie and her two stepsons have never been close, and in fact, Antoine clearly resents Sophie, who he considers a poor substitute for his own mother, who comes from an illustrious noble family in France. When the Meunier family faces a deep crisis due to the apparent murder of Ben by Jacques, Antoine and Nick look to Sophie for guidance, following her instructions closely in order to avoid drawing the attention of the police to their family. The two young men, Sophie observes, are in some sense still children. They follow her orders not out of any particular sense of affection or loyalty, but rather because they need some parent to guide them and, in the absence of their father, she is the closest thing they have to an authority figure.  

In a way, their immaturity is not their own fault, as Sophie notes that Jacques has never allowed them to grow up. Seeking to exert control over those around him, including his family, Jacques has essentially sabotaged his own children’s personal development. He forces Antoine to work under him as his “right hand man,” and he similarly bullies Nick into returning to the family home, threatening to cut him off financially and belittling his business acumen. Despite their privileged lifestyle, their father’s domineering nature has emotionally stunted Antoine and Nick.