This tale of the boyhood and youth of a love-starved orphan before and during the Depression in Chicago crackles underfoot with a dry, truly comic spirit which gives off a gentle heat. Charlie Flowers, who at the age of four appeared in vaudeville in a monkey suit with his parents, survives his dotty mother's attempt to take him along on two suicide tries and her death and his father's desertion and the prevalence of blithely dreadful and fascinating witches. There was Grandmother, who overworked Charlie in her boarding house; boarder Mabel, who collected men and years later Grandmother's diamonds; Miss Ivy, the Zasu Pitts of children's dramatics; and finally Maggie, who called everybody ""Darling"" and whom Charlie marries. He bumbles through a series of odd jobs, grieves for the death of his infant son (""the only thing he ever owned"") and is deserted by upwardly-mobile Maggie. And the vision of an enchanted destiny of love and happiness -- symbolized by the next door cabaret ""The Melody Gardens"" -- at last fades forever; he enlists in the Navy for World War II and manhood. With the exception of Maggie, Howard's characters are a ripe collection of originals, in this warm, amusing story of a Flowers in the midst of those who would nip the bud.