Alexander Birch is the son of Morgan Birch, a well known political consultant and Emily Birch, an abused mother. Alexander grows up without much parental support and eventually becomes a loner. His father dies when he is 27 and his life begins to further crumble. He has already alienated most of the people who have tried to help him or become friends due to his anti social behaviors. His only redeeming value is his ability as an artist, which he pursues with unquestioning determination. After the death of his father, he begins to question the purpose of his life. Having grownup in an intolerant Christian family, he rejects God and becomes an aethiest. Without any familial support or moral underpinning, his life falls apart. He has little to no success as an artist. He has no social life. His female relationships are short and purely sexual. And then he begins to drink. The money he inherited from his father which is his only support starts to run out and he becomes desperate. He attempts to kill himself three times, each time gaining a new perspective about life which he uses to pick himself up and start again. 

During the first person telling of his life, he recounts stories of people he purports to have known. The stories are the life and death stories of people of 5 different religions. During the telling of the stories he interjects philosophic enlightenments he gains through events in his own life as well a those in the 5 character's lives.

Eventually he meets a person who starts asking him questions that he cannot glibly answer as he has done in the past. I causes him to confront the question of purpose and how the existence of purpose can indicate the existence of God. The suicide attempts force him to confront the possibility of salvation and the nature of the human soul. The new friend becomes a patron of his art and through his art he begins to trust the possibility of purpose and hope and accomplishment. He also begins to see evidence of a human soul showing up in his art. As his trust of "the good in life" gets stronger his friend dies in an accident. He is tested yet again, but this time the faint underpinnings of his new character save him. Almost.

His story ends with a 4th suicide attempt, this one effective. But before he dies he speaks a moving narrative summing up of the five morals he gets from the five stories, and how the totality of that spiritual understanding and the enlightenment he received in his own life, allow him to face death. The future for him after his death is uncertain but his new and expansive belief in the immortality of the soul has him anticipating the opportunity to meet, not only the souls of his past, but also the souls of all those who must certainly populate the entire universe. 

 

The point of Alexander's story has to do with his ever expanding understanding of the universe, the nature of God, the immortality of the human soul, and his anticipation that the question of salvation being the proprietary property of one religion, is naive  given the greater question of how life from other planets could fit into the question of salvation.