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Charlie was Alan's close friend and neighbor in Massachusetts. That is…until Charlie kills himself by drowning in a cold pond, right in front of first responders and neighbors who are trying to coax him out of the water.
Alan feels a kind of numb guilt about Charlie's death—partially because he could have prevented it. Well, maybe.
Charlie had sent pages of Transcendentalist writings to Alan, hoping to share the new meaning he had found about life, the universe, and everything:
Charlie had discovered the Transcendentalists late in life and felt a kinship with them. He had seen that Brook Farm was not far from where he and Alan lived, and he thought it meant something. (I.17.6)
But of course, it didn't. There is no meaning and no purpose to Charlie's awakening, which might be the reason he wound up in the freezing cold waters of the pond in his neighborhood. Where Charlie saw unity among all things, Alan thought, "Hogwash!" He treats Charlie's new obsession with scorn ("Don't send me more of that s*** […]" I.18.6) and keeps working away at the daily grind.
He should have seen the deep change in his friend's personality for what it was—a sign that all wasn't right. But this is another type of tragedy that Eggers finds all too common in American culture: disconnectedness from humanity.
Maybe Alan misses all the warning signs Charlie throws his way because he's got his nose to the grindstone, trying to make his mark on the world. Or maybe he's too desensitized by his own life traumas to recognize a suicide attempt when he sees one (remember that Alan drives right past Charlie in the lake—oof).
However you slice it, it's pretty clear that there's a failure in human connection there. Alan feels nothing for the people around him and barely pays attention to life playing out before his eyes (he's the man with the "thousand mile stare"). This includes the changes in his friend, who has fallen in love with the idea of "grandeur"—a luminescent view of a beautiful universe.
Charlie finds connection to something bigger through a 19th-century philosophy—not through his friend, who lives just around the corner. It's a failure of modern society that Eggers can't stop pointing out in this work. The big ideas that attracted Charlie ("grandeur," "understanding," "oneness") only frustrate and alienate Alan, who can't find a higher purpose in life.