Aided by his friend Nick, Charlie Eisner travels to Singapore and Borneo to find—or perhaps to lose—himself, but Nick’s sudden death brings Charlie back to the States.
Charlie is the son of Max Eisner, a charismatic and talented professor, now retired, who’s had five marriages and numerous affairs. Max’s current lover is Seana O’Sullivan, who’d been his most talented graduate student and is roughly half Max’s age. Coming off of his own failed marriage, Nick invites Charlie to work with him in the palm-oil business in Singapore. Lost and searching, Charlie decides to hitch his wagon to Nick’s star. Their friendship is a complicated one, going back to their time together at UMass and surviving Nick’s failed relationship to his wife, Trish, Charlie’s former lover—and the situation is complicated even further when it’s revealed that for a while, they’d been a threesome. Nick introduces Charlie to the substantial sensual pleasures of the Far East, and Charlie finds he loves the beauty and exoticism of Borneo. One evening, when Nick gets blindingly drunk in his 16th-floor apartment, he charges at Charlie, who hoists him over the railing to his death. Charlie feels compelled to return to New England to reconcile himself with Nick’s parents, Trish and Max. Even more sexual complications ensue when Trish, Seana and Charlie form their own threesome, and with Max’s sudden death, Charlie begins a relationship with Seana.
Although summarizing the arc of the narrative makes it sound like the most sensational of soap operas, it’s anything but—Neugeboren presents a meditation on life, love, art and family relationships that’s reminiscent of the best of John Updike.