The story takes place in the small town of Listre, North Carolina in 1950, and Edgrton captures the rhythm and feel of the town pefectly. As he has done in previous novels, Edgerton tells this story through multiple first person perspectives, sometimes through the eyes of a young boy, sometimes those of his mother, sometimes as a stranger in town.At age seven, young Stephen Toomey is being taught by his mother how to be a good Christian boy.
As the novel opens, Stephen's mother is taking him and a playmate up to the prison to see the electric chair, so that "you all can see what will happen if you ever let the Devil lead you into a bad sin." He also gets to hear daily readings from Aunt Margaret's Bible Stories. However, Stephen spends much of his free time watching the men who stand around outside Train's Place drinking beer and telling stories.Train's Place, also known as Redding Bro. Gulf Service Station, is the only place in town that sells beer, and as such is an integral part of the local social scene.
Train's Place is also the home of Trouble, an aging bulldog. Locals claim that if Trouble takes his morning nap inside, it's sure to rain that day. "Don't let them bet you over there. They've won money on it," admonishes the waitress in the diner down the street.Jack Umstead is a con man who has settled on Listre as the perfect town for his next big score.
Jack takes a room at the Settle Inn, then spends a considerable amount of time lounging in front of Train's Place, drinking beer and soaking up local history. That's where he learns the story of Listre's only traffic signal. It was erected soon after.