David Selig is in his early 40s, with his youthful promise long behind him. A lonely child and a smart aleck in elementary school, he grew up feeling isolated from the rest of the world, happiest with his books. Even at the age of 10, he seemed so maladjusted that his hardworking parents sacrificed to send him to a psychiatrist, to no good purpose. He and his adopted sister have cordially hated each other their whole lives.
At Columbia in the mid-1950s, Selig did reasonably well in his literature classes, and after graduation he went to work briefly in a stock brokerage firm. Over the years he fell seriously in love twice, and both affairs ended disastrously. Most recently, he has been eking out a living by ghost-writing term papers for the Columbia students of the 1970s. He lives by his wits, just above the poverty line, and he is going bald.
He is also losing his ability to read people’s minds — and with it his entire past life, his very sense of self.
I struggled with this book. I found it dull, honestly, and Selig is not the kind of character whose mind I enjoyed inhabiting. I found it hard to identify with him, and he seemed to have little in the way of redeeming qualities.
Actually liking a protagonist is in no way essential to my enjoying a book, but in this case, in a story where not much happens beyond listening to his reminisces of a miserable life wasted, it certainly didn’t help. I’m a fan of the quiet novel where nothing much happens besides being left feeling some emotional shift — I’ve read Duras— but this just left me cold.
Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps I need to get to my own middle age; get to a point where I’m going bald and looking back on my life with some wistful sense of loss before I’ll really understand what Selig is going through. Silverberg was 37 when Dying Inside was first published: maybe I need another decade before I’ll appreciate this novel is trying to say.