"In his more flamboyantly Dostoevskian moments, David Selig liked to think of his power as a curse, a savage penalty for some unimaginable sin. The mark of Cain, perhaps. Certainly his special ability had caused a lot of trouble for him, but in his saner moments he knew that calling it a curse was sheer self-indulgent melodramatic bullshit. The power was a divine gift. The power brought ecstasy. Without the power he was nothing, a schmendrick; with it he was a god. Is that a curse? Is that so terrible? [...] Sophocles, age 88 or so, was heard to express his great relief at having outlived the pressures of the physical passions. I am freed at last from a tyrannical master, said the wise and happy Sophocles. Can we then assume that Sophocles, had Zeus given him a chance retroactively to alter the entire course of his days, would have opted for lifelong impotence? Don't kid yourself, Duvid [sic; it's his nickname]: no matter how badly the telepathy stuff fucked you up, and it fucked you up pretty badly, you wouldn't have done without it for a minute. Because the power brought ectasy."
Dying Inside is a novel by science fiction author Robert Silverberg, written in 1972 and recently re-released in 2002. Unlike most books that fall into the sci fi genre, it doesn't feature any fancy technology, alien species, etc. It's simply the story of an otherwise ordinary guy who happened to have been born with the ability to read minds.
The narrative is constantly jumping forwards and backwards through time as the protagonist, David Selig, recounts the story of his life, from childhood up to the present. Although he reveals his ability to only a very small number of people, most people find that there is something different about David, since he can't help but have his actions affected by what he sees in others' minds. It made him a problem child in his youth, and right up until the present, alienates him from his family, and makes it difficult for him to find friends.
So filled with wild abandon in his youth and angst in his adulthood, David never makes much of himself. Even at the time the story is told, when he's 41 years old, he still only makes his money by writing term papers and essays for university students; his gift allows him to get in their heads and write it in a style almost indistinguishable from their own.
Although, as I said, the story is filled with flashbacks, the "present-day" storyline revolves around the fact that David is losing his power. He's long thought of the power as a second identity inside himself, and now feels that "other him" dying, hence the title of the book. As much as the power fills him with angst, he is terrified to see it go, as he feels, somewhat justifiably it is the only thing separating him from all the "normal" failures in the world. With it, at least he is a "special" failure.
The book has virtually no action, and is fairly light on plot. Instead, it is philosophical and introspective, dealing with David's love-hate relationship with his powers and Nyquist, the one other person he's found who shares them, and with coming to grips with the fact that he's losing them. There is also a sub-plot of getting over the life-long enmity he's had with his sister, and the two of them trying to develop some semblance of a normal sisterly-brotherly love. As one might expect from a book about someone with the power to read minds, there is also a lot of sex.
Although without any suspense to keep you turning the pages, the book is interesting nonetheless, and doesn't bore the reader into putting it down. Had I been reading it under normal circumstances, I would have easily been able to put it down between chapters, but there would have been no danger of me not picking it up again. Instead, I read it cover to cover in one sitting, since it was the book I'd chosen to read on my long flight from Canada back to South Korea. It was entertaining, and easy enough to digest that I didn't need to take long breaks from reading it.
Although far from my favorite book of all time, I certainly enjoyed it. The idea of telepathy as a source of angst is hardly unique, but it's well-executed. I'm very picky about writing style and this book didn't disappoint me in that regard; it's neither too matter-of-fact, nor too embellished. My only stylistic complaint is the fact that the author frequently switches back and forth from first person to third person narration; this is supposed to illustrate the duality that David feels, but I felt it didn't do a good job, and was merely distracting. Others may disagree.
Aside from what I've mentioned, my only complaint is regarding the new release. I haven't seen the original, but the cover art on this one (a skeleton sitting on a giant blue marble, hovering over an ocean and staring at skull with glowing blue eyes sticking out of what appears to be a Borg cube, by Duncan Long) is off-putting and irrelevant to the subject matter of the book, and the price, ($12.50 US, $18.50 Can) is too high for a 239-page paperback, in my humble opinion.