First-novelist Nicholson, a native Californian, describes in scathing detail the treacheries behind the facade of upper-class Palos Verdes. Medina and Jim, 14-year-old twins, move to the beach town from Michigan so that their cardiologist father can improve his career, eventually becoming the surgeon to the stars. Handsome, laid-back Jim adapts to the new environment, but independent Medina is less happy, finding solace only in the water. Alone in the surf, she can escape the pressures of beach-girl beauty, the superficiality of country club life, and the constant roar of her parents' fighting. Her father is caring and supportive, but rarely present, and her mother seems on the brink of a nervous breakdown--or worse. An ex-model, now a compulsive overeater, she changes out of her yellow bathrobe and leaves the house only to buy food. The greasy smell of her constant cooking permeates the place, while she, usually entombed in her bedroom, emotionally manipulates Jim, pitting him against Medina and her husband. Jim becomes his mother's ""protector"" and spends long days playing card games with her and watching TV. Nicholson depicts the subtle annihilation of his personality as he gradually becomes a conniver with his mother. When father moves out, life gets worse. Medina sleeps with an old druggie beach bum, Jim stumbles through each day increasingly stoned, and their mother gets even more desperate in her attempts to destroy her husband. Meanwhile, the author eerily catches the cloistered life of Palos Verdes--the adults pursuing high-powered careers and well-maintained lawns, the kids staying drunk or stoned. Medina begins innocently, connected to Jim with an unconquerable love, and she ends up alone and damaged (though a survivor). A compelling, realistic view of the underbelly of affluent California life.