“This guy is a wordsmith extraordinaire! ‘The Layout,’ in all its complexity, is a work of art, the likes of which I haven't enjoyed as much in years.” - Robert Denbleyker, Respiratory Practitioner
Here is a story ― or rather two stories conjoined ― about the symbiosis of imagination and fact; about the nostalgic romance of the railroad and its much more somber reality.
A Depression Era southern town suffers a series of inexplicable tragedies in the carnage of train wrecks, human frailty and a darkly wondrous season where nature seems intent on breaking all of its own rules. Against this backdrop, a vast panoply of characters ― a womanizing mayor, the abused wife of a sullen locomotive engineer, an honest but compromised police chief, a minister that seems to levitate, a dying junk dealer, a Black preacher caught between two worlds, a brutal company guard, a dwarf railroad executive and master manipulator, and a group of church ladies prone to gossip ― seek to comprehend and manipulate events beyond their control.
Seventy years later, in Southern California, these stories are interwoven into the social trials of Taylor Bedskirt ― a solitary widower with an obsession for trains ― who falls desperately under the spell of an aggressive and careworn waitress, earns cautious acclaim from like-minded enthusiasts, and attempts to ward off a sister intent upon giving him a "normal" life. What ensues is a trenchant and often humorous exploration of faith and cynicism and of the fictions we create and how we come to believe them.