The novel begins with a countdown to the death of Eddie, a crippled, elderly man who works in maintenance at Ruby Pier, a seaside amusement park. Eddie has always wanted to leave Ruby Pier to make a life for himself elsewhere, but has never been able to. While making his ordinary rounds one day, Eddie sees a cart on a ride called “Freddy’s Free Fall” hanging and threating to dump out the ride-goers. Eddie quickly helps other workers get the people out, but then he notices that the cart is still falling—while a little girl, “Amy or Annie,” stands below. Eddie goes to save her, and dies when the cart falls on him.
Eddie goes to heaven, where he travels through many shifting colors until he meets the Blue Man, who was one of the “circus freaks” at Ruby Pier long ago. The Blue Man tells Eddie that in heaven, he will meet five important people who will each teach him a lesson about his life. The Blue Man explains that he turned blue as a child from medicinal silver nitrate, and led a lonely life thereafter. He explains that he died because of Eddie: when Eddie was a child, he once ran into the road after a lost ball, and the Blue Man had a heart attack after swerving to avoid hitting him. The Blue Man teaches Eddie the lesson of human connection—that all lives are connected, even those of strangers.
Eddie again travels through the colors, and then arrives in a familiar jungle battleground. There, he meets the Captain. The novel flashes back to Eddie’s youth, when he decides to enlist in World War II to prove his bravery. Stationed in the Philippines, Eddie and his unit are taken captive by enemy. Months later, they plan and execute an escape. While setting the village on fire, Eddie thinks he sees a small shadow moving in one of the huts, and tries to save the person. He is then shot in the leg and knocked unconscious. He comes home permanently crippled and bitter. In heaven, the Captain reveals that it was he who shot Eddie, trying to get him out of the fire. He also reveals that he died during the escape while trying to get his men out. Before leaving him, the Captain teaches Eddie that sacrifice is vital to life, and should be sought after rather than lamented.
Eddie travels again, and lands outside of a diner in the mountains, where he sees his father in the window. The novel flashes back to Eddie’s childhood, during which he grows up trying to win the love of his physically abusive, emotionally neglectful father. In heaven, a woman named Ruby appears, and tells Eddie that her husband, Emile, built Ruby Pier in her honor long ago. The first Ruby Pier burned down, ruining Emile’s spirit and wealth. Emile was then in the hospital next to Eddie’s father, who was dying. Ruby explains that Eddie’s father died saving his friend Mickey Shea from drowning in an ocean storm, even though he had just caught Mickey trying to rape Eddie’s mother. Ruby teaches Eddie the lesson of forgiveness, and Eddie lets go of his anger toward his father.
Next, Eddie finds himself in a world of weddings, where he finds his wife, Marguerite. The novel flashes back to Eddie’s life with Marguerite, from their courtship at Ruby Pier, to their humble wedding, to their attempts to have children. Eddie ruined their chances of adopting a child, after Marguerite got into a devastating car accident while trying to stop Eddie from gambling away all their money on his birthday. Margeurite eventually forgave him, but soon afterward she died from a brain tumor. Eddie is left feeling empty, as Marguerite had always been the primary source of his happiness in life, and she had given him the strength to fight through the darkness that consumed him after the war. In heaven, Marguerite spends a long time with Eddie. She teaches him that love transcends death.
The novel flashes back through Eddie’s birthdays after Marguerite dies, all of which are lonely and uneventful. Eddie spends his last years missing Marguerite and regretting that he never left Ruby Pier to make a life for himself elsewhere. He believes that his life was meaningless.
In heaven, the last person Eddie meets is a little girl named Tala. She reveals that she was killed at Eddie’s hands during the war—she was the small shadow Eddie saw moving in the flaming hut. Eddie falls into a deep despair, now believing that he deserved the darkness he felt all of his life. Tala then explains to Eddie that he redeemed himself, by keeping children safe through his maintenance job at Ruby Pier. Eddie finds peace, and travels through heaven until he reaches a Ferris wheel in the sky, where Marguerite awaits him.