The narrative is divided into fifteen chapters that feature the main character, Charlie Zero, who is roughly twenty-seven years of age but going nowhere in life. Charlie's father dies in the Vietnam War before he even remembers him, and his mother dies when he is a teenager. He lives in a town where there are only dead-end jobs for people without college degrees. When he meets a Gatsby-like mobster at a local bar late one night, he feels that his world might change, but he ultimately realizes that he doesn't belong among the wealthy and the beautiful. Because he himself is neither wealthy nor beautiful, he decides that the only way to have women pay attention to him is by sleeping with prostitutes on a regular basis. He is soon caught by the police and must attend Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings as a condition of his probation. At one of the meetings, he meets one of the beautiful women who initially rejected him and who now seeks treatment at the same meeting he attends. Even though Charlie has shrugged off his past behaviors, he still persues her.