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Seize The Day is a novel about Tommy Wilhelm's failures. He is an unemployed middle-class, middle-aged man who is waiting for a divorce from his nagging wife. He is "out of place" among the old inmates of Hotel Gloriana, where he and his father live separately. He desperately wants the help of his father, both emotionally and financially, but he can never obtain it. He invests his last dollar in the commodities market through Dr. Tamkin, and loses it all.
The main action of the novel's narrative is confined to one day, but the movement towards the climax is heightened by several flashbacks into Wilhelm's past. One flashback explains his stock market investment with Dr. Tamkin, the pseudo-psychologist, who convinced Wilhelm to invest his savings in commodities. Now he justifiably fears for his investment, for it is his last money on earth. Wilhelm also reflects on his relationship with his father, Dr. Adler, who refuses to be kind or helpful to his son. Wilhelm recalls that when he left college to go to Hollywood, he had changed his name from Wilhelm Adler to Tommy Wilhelm. He thinks this is what has caused his father's anger towards him. Finally Wilhelm remembers the way that Maurice Venice misled him, making him believe he could become an actor in Hollywood.
There are two major pressures that are pushing Wilhelm under -- the estrangement between Wilhelm and his father and the estrangement between Wilhelm and his wife. In the dining room of the hotel, Wilhelm approaches his father, who is seated with Mr. Perls. Although he attempts to please his father and impress Mr. Perls, Wilhelm condemns them both in his mind for their transparent greed. The conversation turns to Dr. Tamkin and his dubious credentials. Wilhelm has foolishly allowed Tamkin to invest all his money in the stock market.
Wilhelm is also worried about his investment in lard. He has listened to Dr. Tamkin's philosophy about the real and the pretender soul. He has also followed Dr. Tamkin's advice to invest his money in the stock market, for the pseudo-psychologist told him that "only the present is real, the here and now. Seize The Day." Now Wilhelm senses fearfully that he is "in the water" deeper than he had anticipated.