The time is the 1930s and the setting is a western frontier town of a few thousand people, with one dubious distinction. Carson City, Nevada, is the smallest capital in the United States. Pete's world is circumscribed by Main Street - shops and stores, a pool hall, boarding-house hotels, and a capitol whose main contribution is as a place of liquid shade and precious green grass in blistering summers. By far the most important event of the day is when the steam whistle of the V & T sounds, signaling thee passage of the shortline railway on its journey from Virginia City to Reno, that impossibly big town of 20,000 people 30 miles away. Pete's immigrant parents run the Basque Hotel, bed and meals, whiskey and wine in Prohibition time for sheepherders and town characters. Pete is indifferent to his heritage except for disquiet about his parents' ignorance of such American traditions as Christmas trees. The heroes that figure in the boy Pete's growing up consist of a motley collection as delightful as the reader will ever meet: Buckshot Dooney, the town drunk who travels from trouble to trouble ; Hallelujah Bob, who pursues his demons with a shotgun when he has imbibed too much; Irish prospector Mickey McCluskey; Mizoo, the cowboy with a ten-gallon hat; Pansy Gifford, the handyman who always wears a suit with a flower in his lapel; and George Washington Lopez, who swamps out the local whorehouse a block away from the capitol. Pete, too prone to dreams, undergoes his rites of passage - cruelty and kindness, disillusionment, love and terror, pathos and hilarious adventure, and finally, a cautious understanding of his world.