Set in Lima, the novel tells of a love triangle whose participants may be the fictional creations of Don Rigoberto: Rigoberto himself, by day a gray insurance executive, by night a pornographer and sexual enthusiast; his second wife, Lucrecia; and his young son, Alfonso. Husband and wife are estranged because of a sexual encounter between Lucrecia and the boy, a fey, angelic creature who may have seduced her (rather than the other way around). Missing Lucrecia terribly, Rigoberto fills his notebooks with memories, fantasies, and unsent letters; meanwhile, the boy visits Lucrecia, determined to regain her favor and win her love. Together, father and son persuade her to enact a series of tableaux vivants based on works by Egon Schiele and other painters. With his usual sly assurance, Vargas Llosa keeps the reader guessing which episodes are real and which issue from the Don's imagination.