The narrator begins his account of a sojourn in Los Angeles by describing the first weekend he spent with Mary, whom he met in a feminist bookstore on his second day in the city. She asks him to chain her to the bed and makes him promise that he will not unchain her for twenty-four hours no matter how fervently she pleads for release. He keeps his promise, although she does indeed demand to be freed. When they go out later to eat, however, their main topic of conversation is the social and economic collapse of England.
The narrator’s apartment in Santa Monica is above a shop that offers rental equipment for parties and—in a seemingly bizarre juxtaposition—for the care of invalids. The shop’s proprietor, George Malone, develops an interest in the narrator after hearing him practice playing his flute. George takes the narrator out to a bar, gives him directions to the beach, and begins driving him around so that he can get a better grasp of the city’s size and disposition. The narrator is also contacted by a old acquaintance, Terence Latterly, a delicate young scholar spectacularly unlucky in love, who recounts a tale of his most recent humiliation by the unkind object of his current romantic obsession, a woman named Sylvie.
The bored narrator’s desultory flute playing encourages George to make further attempts to cultivate his friendship, culminating in an invitation to visit his house in Simi Valley. On the weekend before his departure for New York, the narrator accepts this invitation, taking Mary and Terence with him. George’s two sons from his failed marriage are also at the house, on one of their regular visits, but they are determinedly unobtrusive. The four adults are moved to discuss the propriety of corporal punishment and the politics of educating children in religious faith, but they eventually move on to more controversial ground and begin playing with George’s gun. To bring the occasion to a conclusion, the narrator attempts to play a Bach sonata on his flute; he cannot finish it, but his audience applauds his efforts anyway.