A novel of ambitions and desires thwarted in a small Texas town, "Dancing with Lyndon" brings the early 1950s to life. Living in a small conservative and racist town, Thomas Patterson, a stiff young criminal lawyer, is running for state district judge and hoping for endorsements from either the governor or young Lyndon Johnson, who's running for the senate. Thomas's stay-at-home wife and their teenaged son Tommy are satellites to his grandiose political aspirations. But all hopes for a substantial political career are dashed when a black client Thomas successfully defended against a charge of the rape of a white girl kills himself, leaving a note confessing to the crime. The town turns against the Patterson family, jeering, threatening, and even vandalizing Thomas's car. The menacing atmosphere only adds to the tensions escalating within the family.
Mary Lee, Thomas's dreamy, restless wife, can't quite grasp why she is so unhappy but knows it has something to do with Thomas's reliance on logic and reason to the exclusion of all emotion. Impulsively, she seeks the advice of a gypsy woman who foretells temptation, change, and someone to show her the way.
Fourteen-year-old Tommy is caught between his parents' conflicting unspoken demands and struggles to make his own way and his own decisions about life. As tensions mount, he alternates between concern for his parents and the forbidden, budding attraction he feels for the daughter of a gypsy woman.
All the protagonists' desires and ambitions come to a head at a barbecue where Lyndon Johnson is scheduled to speak. Thomas's political career takes an unexpected turn, Mary Lee finally understands where her desires can lead her, and Tommy comes to see his parents in a new light.