Like Lily, Bud wants to break into movie making, in his case, as a stunt rider in westerns. His determination overrides his growing disillusionment. Hollywood, he learns, is brutal-to horses, to men, to women. But he is just 19 when he arrives and he works on his strut and swagger, even as he struggles to find a place to sleep and enough money to eat. When he does get his big break, his very soul seems to be swallowed up by the need to push the limits.
The falseness of the movies clashes with the harsh reality of life behind the scenes. Hollywood is the land of broken dreams and in Bud's case, broken spirits. "The stars over Echol ranch were always at their brightest in December, the cold winter nights bringing them out crystal clear, but here a brown haze-nobody called it smog in those days-had been hanging over the Hollywood Hills and the whole Los Angeles valley for the past few weeks, and I couldn't see a damn thing above me except the blurred disk of the moon."
Bud narrates the novel, and his voice will stay with you long after it is finished. He is a thoughtful, self-educated man, with an artist's soul and a bronco rider's ego. His simmering anger over the death of his sister and his increasing need for proving himself on ever more dangerous "gags" leads to further wrecks and desolation. He recognizes the looming danger, but it's hard to give up the dream, and as he looks back from the perspective of a middle-aged man, he wonders how he could have held onto that dream for so long. The smell of fear, stale booze, and horse sweat seem to hang over Hollywood like the blanket of smog over LA.