Never mix, never worry--it applies to genres too, and this coming-of-agerama cum folk-tall-tale cum symbolic fantasy cum family chronicle, though written throughout with a likable, evenhanded calm, isn't quite talented enough to bridge the gaps in credibility, time frame, and momentum. But talented it is, especially when narrator Bill Bonhomme (inappropriately called ""Wild Bill"" by his father, ""Quebec Bill"") concentrates on the bootlegging, train-hijacking, canoe-sinking family adventures that were the highlight of his Depression-era youth in Kingdom County, Vermont--near the Canadian border and nothing much else. ""I always try not to romanticize him,"" Bill says of his relentlessly optimistic and resourceful father (""Ain't it all wonderful, Wild Bill?"")--and promptly proceeds to show Quebec Bill in Paul-Bunyanesque, roguish action: cajoling brother-in-law Henry and young Bill into doomed confrontations with cutthroats, swilling monks, decapitated Mounties, and Texas longhorns; swimming, fiddling, lying, fleeing, and, finally, dying--all with staggering proficiency or endurance. The gaps arise when bloody, violent deaths are rolled right into the cheer--and when the already desultory telling is interrupted for clan history (back to the picaresque 18th century) or for a jarring flash-forward to 1967, when Wild Bill's son Henry crosses the border to evade the draft (""Is Henry rejecting his country or is his country rejecting him?""). Worst of all, the rather murky theme of sons haunted by disappearing fathers culminates in a final, cymbalic, utterly unintegratable tableau: Quebec Bill's mortal enemy, the unkillable fiend Carcajou, turns out to be Q. Bill's own long-lost father. Timber! . . . What almost triumphs over these serious overreachings, however, is the detailed, cold-river sense of place, the woodsy chunks of character (like Bill's unshakable, Greek-teaching aunt), and the unforced exuberance when Quebec Bill, Henry, Wild Bill, and their demolished white Cadillac really get going.