The novel is set in Los Angeles in the
late 1980s. There are two protagonists, cousins, both in the history department
at a leading privately funded university in the city. Their lives intertwine
when, at various stages of the story, they have romantic relationships
with the same woman, called Pamela, who is employed on the same campus.
The novel also portrays the lives of the two men until each, in his individual
way, reaches a crisis point and shows how each deals to this.
The first cousin, decidedly the poorer
one, is Harry de la Vega, who has an attraction/repulsion complex towards
the second, called Lance, and towards his family (his family name being
Sampson de la Vega). The family's Spanish colonial heritage and the lure
of Lance's wealth provide the attraction side of the equation. The repulsion
side is the result of the failure of Harry's attempts to be accepted by
As regards this obsession, there are
two subplots the results of which Harry concludes he is being persecuted
by Lance and which transforms that preoccupation into a visceral hostility.
The central character in the first one
is Luiza Gomez, a Cuban-born sociologist, who is Harry's ex-flame of three
years before. Having been spurned by him prior to the events of the novel,
she sets herself on exacting her revenge. She hatches a plot whereby by
lobbying three fellow academics on a hiring committee, she succeeds in
having him fail in his attempt to obtain a one year extension as a lecturer.
The central figure of the second subplot
is Leonora Craxi, a long-time departmental secretary of the history department.
Because of her reputation as a gossip and at the urging of Lance, she is
removed from her position. But because she knows too much about too many
people in authority, she is transferred to another office on the same campus.
A combination of two aspects of campus politics concurrently occurring
during the same time period propels her new boss to confide to her information
about a member of staff which she wrongly identifies as Lance. Because
of her loose tongue, this information spreads amongst the support staff
amongst whom Pamela figures and Harry becomes a recipient of this as well.
The third aspect of the novel is the
road taken by Pamela, the woman mentioned in the first paragraph, in her
search for emotional fulfillment. In the beginning of the story, we find
her in a relationship with Lance. His lack of emotional commitment, however,
and Harry's declared interest draws her to him. Eventually, this leads
to an engagement and marriage.
What will Harry do regarding Lance and
his perceived persecution? How will he emotionally handle his failure to
remain teaching at the university? Will he seek employment elsewhere? Or
will he try to scheme his way back on to the campus? And supposing he does
-what, theoretically, could be his options? How about Leonora Craxi? Will
she end up unscathed by her actions or will her life be drawn further into
the rivalries of her superiors? How does Pamela figure in the complex web
of campus rivalries? Will this somehow affect her feelings towards her
home environment or will she simply carry on unaffected, regardless ? And
privileged and handsome Lance? What will he do, now that he has lost Pamela?
Will it affect his life as an academic? Or will he simply dismiss the whole
episode? Will Harry and he clash again? If so, will there be a fight to
the finish? Or will there be a reconciliation at the end of the story?
How will Pamela figure in all this?