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Classical pianist Robert Dupea, who comes from a family of musicians, works in a California oil field. Most of his time is spent in bowling alleys, drinking beer in the trailer of his friend Elton, or with his waitress girl friend, Rayette. When he learns that she is pregnant, he quits his job and leaves for Los Angeles where his sister Partita, also a pianist, is making a recording. Partita informs him that their father has suffered two strokes and urges him to return to the family home on Puget Sound. He tells Rayette that he must go to see the old man and reluctantly agrees to take her along. On the way, they pick up Palm and Terry, two lesbians whose constant chatter about ecology increasingly annoys Robert. The four of them are thrown out of a restaurant when he becomes involved in an argument with a waitress who cannot bring his special order. Eventually, Robert reaches his destination; embarrassed by Rayette's lack of polish, he registers her in a motel and goes to visit his father, who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. At dinner that night, he meets Catherine Van Ost, a young pianist engaged to his brother Carl, a violinist; in spite of personality differences, Robert and Catherine become attracted to each other and make love in her room. Meanwhile, Rayette becomes bored at the motel and comes to the Dupea estate unannounced. Her presence creates an awkward situation, but when Samia, a pompous family friend, ridicules Rayette's background, Robert is forced into a fiery defense of her. Storming from the room, he discovers his father's huge male nurse giving a massage to the semi-nude Partita; even more angered, Robert picks a senseless fight with him and is quickly knocked to the floor. After a frustrating attempt to talk with his father, Robert leaves with Rayette. Unable to function in the intellectual world of his family or in the working-class world of the oil fields, he stops at a gas station, abandons Rayette when she goes in for some coffee, and hitches a ride on a truck.