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 these relatives. 

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?