David Selig is a forty-one-year-old man gifted from birth with the ability to read minds. The main conflict in the novel is his attempt to come to terms with the gradual loss of this ability. He has never known why he was born with his gift, nor does he understand why he is losing it.
Ironically, Selig’s ability to know what others are thinking has caused him to feel alienated throughout his life. Instead of being able to forge closer bonds with other humans, such as his parents and his sister, Judith, he becomes isolated from them because he can see beyond the surface of everyday life. He understands the selfishness and pettiness beneath the façades of human behavior.
As the novel opens, Selig lives a hermetic existence, eking out a living by ghostwriting papers for college students. His story contains several flashbacks telling about formative incidents in his life. These include a visit as a child to a psychiatrist; his relationship with another telepath, Tom Nyquist; and his failed love relationships with two different women, Toni and Kitty.
His telepathic ability is responsible in part for the breakups of both relationships. As Toni experiences an LSD trip, Selig is unable to avoid entering her mind and consequently experiencing the drug’s effects. Toni mistakenly thinks his strange behavior is a deliberate attempt to confuse and hurt her, and she leaves him for that reason. Kitty is a young student whose mind Selig is unable to enter. Fascinated by her and wanting to make her into the soulmate and confidante he has never had, he insists that they study and experiment with telepathy. Finally, his pressuring and manipulation drive her away.
At the end of the novel, Selig’s powers have deserted him. Moreover, his career as a ghostwriter is ended when he is beaten by a dissatisfied customer and then discovered by campus security. The novel concludes with an open ending and a tentative affirmation: Selig must reevaluate not only his self-identity but also his relationships with others, especially the sister he has always disliked.