The vain and stubborn 17-year-old child of a failed comedian, Faye Greener aspires to stardom in Hollywood. While she has the physical glamour of a movie star, she lacks the necessary talent. She regularly works as a movie extra, hoping to be discovered or get her lucky break. Faye Greener has numerous male admirers, not just Tod Hackett, but Faye admits she could never love a man unless he is wealthy and willing to support her expensive needs. She doesn't mind that Tod is obsessed with her. She likes Tod, but only as a friend. She has a close relationship with her father, Harry Greener, though they often get on each other's nerves. Though Faye flirts with a lot of different men, she refrains from having sex until after her father dies. Rather than borrow money from Tod Hackett or her best friend, Mary Dove, Faye decides to become a prostitute and pay for the funeral herself. Soon after, Faye strikes up a business deal and moves in with Homer Simpson, who agrees to support her financially until she achieves fame. Faye becomes bored, restless, and mean-spirited while living with a man who dotes on her every need and whim. One night Faye takes her mean-spiritedness to the extreme and sleeps with Miguel in her bed in Homer's house. When Homer and Faye's lover, Earle Shoop, catch her in bed with Miguel, Faye takes off, leaving the docile Homer a devastated wreck of a man.
Tod Hackett is a fine artist who has recently arrived in Hollywood, worried about selling out his gifts. Besides his work in film, he plans an epic painting and studies the locals for inspiration. One day while apartment hunting, Tod sees Faye Greener and is so impressed by her looks that he moves into an apartment a floor above hers with the hope of getting to know her. Tod meets his ultimate muse in the mysterious and impenetrable Faye Greener, who both intrigues and repulses him. He often fantasizes about her, devising ways to get her to sleep with him, from coercing her with money to attempted rape. Tod's lust for Faye spurs him to meet the other male admirers in her life, and, at times, he genuinely cares about her and her father, Harry Greener. Whenever Tod feels sexually frustrated by Faye, he diverts his pent-up energies by daydreaming about his masterpiece painting, "The Burning of Los Angeles." When Harry dies and Faye moves in with Homer Simpson, Tod and Homer eventually develop an unusual, oddly matched friendship. When Faye leaves Homer, devastating the man, Tod tries to help Homer but fails. In the end, Tod's psyche cracks too.
Homer Simpson, a 40-year-old, sexually inexperienced bookkeeper from Iowa has come to California for health reasons. Homer is a misfit, a man who has worked conscientiously his whole life, who has the economic resources to manage comfortably but lacks the emotional resources. His life of steady, meticulous work has left him with nervous tics; his busy hands operate independent of his feelings and render him helpless to human emotion. When Homer moves to Hollywood he is still in the grip of an emotional trauma he sustained from a near-sexual encounter with an alcoholic woman who let Homer grope her in a hotel room. Eventually, Homer's pain dissipates, but when he meets Faye Greener, a new obsession begins. Faye uses Homer to finance her life and support her ambitions for stardom after her father Harry Greener dies. Happy and uplifted at first by Faye's presence in his life, Homer is devastated when she leaves him. His tightly coiled emotions are unleashed when Adore Loomis hits him in the head with a stone, and Homer stomps on the eight-year-old boy, crushing him to death. A riotous crowd seizes Homer and presumably rips him apart. The name for the bumbling animated character of Homer Simpson from The Simpsons cartoons was apparently chosen based on inspiration from West's book.
Harry Greener has been in show business for so long that his ordinary speech and gestures are in the style of vaudeville routines. Unable to land much work in film, he makes silver polish, which he sells house to house with his daughter Faye Greener's help. Harry wants the theatrical success for his daughter that he failed to achieve, hoping it will save her from her worst impulses. When Harry becomes ill, it is a surprise, even to him, that his illness is real, not an act to gain sympathy dollars from his customers. Harry's last customer is Homer Simpson, and when Harry meets Homer, he baits him into wooing his daughter Faye. On his deathbed, Harry shares many happy and tragic memories with his neighbor Tod Hackett, reminiscing about his wasted talents and tragic life up to the very moment of his death. After he is gone, his daughter becomes a prostitute to pay for his funeral, and Homer Simpson takes her in and cares for her.