Much in the same vein as Joshua Gidding's The Old Girl and Eric Goodman's High on the Energy Bridge, this first novel pops along with the energy of its youthfully pitiless stare. Earl Przepasniak is our narrator; with younger brother Bobo, he grows up in western Massachusetts with father Robert and mother Mavis--at least until divorce and unfortunate fates separate the couple. But Robert, the ""American Dad,"" is anything but a Robert Young best-knowing father type. A psychiatrist at a private girls' school, he's every outlandish cultural aberration of the Sixties rolled into one: ecologist, mushroom-hunter, house--builder, philanderer, druggie, proto-hippie, eccentrically generous, totally self-absorbed. In other words, he's less someone a son can lean on than someone whose gunshot-behavior sends poor Earl scurrying around, dodging the richochets. . . while mother Mavis, a late-blooming published poet who has suffered this man for years and years, is now doing her doughty best without him. And, eventually, Mavis will even meet her death (half-accidental) at the hands of this monstrous American Dad--when he pulls down a set of Dad-built shelves on her during a heated discussion of past-due alimony. . . . Janowitz has a smart-kid first-novelist's virtues: just about the right amount of premature jaundice, a long attention span (roughly half the scenes are too long), a good ear for non-sequiturs in domestic speech. But once out of the bosom of the wacko parents, narrator Earl is cast off into an ill-prepared young adulthood that Janowitz just can't handle; a European rite-of-passage trip (mother dead, father in prison, what's a guy to do?) is dreary and toneless. So, when the live wires like dad Robert and mom Mavis are onstage, this book has a headlong, juicy appeal; when they're not, it's drably standard.