The novel's main character, David Selig, is an undistinguished man living in New York City. David was born with a telepathic gift allowing him to read minds. Rather than use his ability for any greater good, however, Selig squanders his power, using it only for his own convenience. At the beginning of the novel, David earns a living by reading the minds of college students so that he can better plagiarize reports and essays on their behalf.
As the novel progresses, Selig's power becomes continually weaker, working sporadically and sometimes not at all, and Selig struggles to maintain his grip on reality as he begins to lose an ability on which he has long since grown dependent.
The book contains a number of memorable elements, such as David's relationship with a fellow telepath he meets as a young adult, or his strained interaction with his estranged younger sister (who has long distrusted him because of his ability), or his obsession, during one section of the novel, with proving that his girlfriend, a woman named Kitty, is also telepathic after he discovers that he can't read her mind. There is also a moment where David's power causes him to vicariously experience his girlfriend's acid trip, and a bravura sequence in which the adolescent Selig, during a visit to a farm, enters the minds of, variously, a fish swimming in a stream, a hen laying an egg, and a young couple in the midst of passionate sex.
Michael Dirda, reviewing the 2009 reissue, said Dying Inside is "widely regarded as Robert Silverberg's masterpiece. ... It's insane that 'Dying Inside' should be subtly dismissed as merely a genre classic. This is a superb novel about a common human sorrow, that great shock of middle age -- the recognition that we are all dying inside and that all of us must face the eventual disappearance of the person we have been."
Silverberg has called it "as mundane in texture as any novel I've ever written."
Literary and other allusions
Dying Inside makes frequent references to various artists, writers and other academics, including:
^"Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg", by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, published 2016 by Fairwood Press
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