Delaney Mossbacher is a wealthy, conscientious liberal on his way to the recycling center when he hits a pedestrian with his car as he's driving in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The man hit is Candido Rincon, a poor, illegal immigrant from Mexico. Feeling guilty, Delaney gives Candido twenty dollars to compensate for his injuries, and the two men go their separate ways. Yet with the accident, Delaney and Candido's lives become woven together for the rest of the novel.
Candido and America (his young, pregnant wife) are camping out at the bottom of Topanga canyon. They try to find temporary jobs at a local work exchange, where white men drive through in pickups and ask for laborers. The work is dangerous, low-paying and hard to get, and the two struggle just to survive, hoping to one day save enough money for an apartment.
Meanwhile Delaney and his wife Kyra are living a sheltered existence in a gated community at the top of the canyon. Kyra is a real-estate agent and Delaney is a nature writer. They sell houses, write, cook gourmet meals and shuttle their son back and forth from school. They like to think of themselves as being good people.
As the novel goes on, however, the Mossbachers begin to show their true characters. Delaney especially is threatened by the Mexicans who are moving to L.A. looking for work. He grows more and more paranoid and xenophobic, drops his liberal posturing and starts acting in all the reactionary ways he never thought himself capable of. This attitude forces the conclusion of the novel, with Delaney coming after Candido and America, some kind of confused revenge in his heart.
This report prepared by Matthew Christensen