First of a projected trilogy: coming-of-age vignettes on the once-pristine coast of West Florida in the 1940s and '50s--strong on flora/fauna/fishing background, weakened by lofty talk and strained prose that pump for Biblical/folk-mythic grandeur. Fredericksen's hero is teenager Garwood Winetrout, who survives a storm but loses his captain (who is, unbeknownst to him, his real father)--as Captain Jones is swept away: ""the captain's right arm went overboard, sending back a greeting. . . ."" Meanwhile, there are sexual awakenings for both Garwood and Capt. Jones' daughter Karen: Garwood finds erotic uses for a melon, and for naughty bits of Jones' randy mistress; Karen (obviously cast as an Eve in Eden) is fascinated by snakes, raped by a ""snakemilker"" (who immediately dies), then sins again with a bar man, necessitating an abortion. And echoing these maturing appetites is the secret of another sinner, Garwood's mother, who withholds her knowledge of Garwood's real sire from husband Axel--who will die in an assault on a polluting dredge. At the close Garwood and Karen swim for a last look at a clear-water Paradise; Karen spills the beans as they compound the blood sin (""Out father!"" gasps Garwood); and the pair will swim away from Eden to face a fearsome ""passage through life."" Despite the impressive natural detail and local lore (e.g., the slaughter of a monster hammerhead): a mostly lackluster stew of overheated verbiage, Southern-gothic clichÃ‰s, and mythic pretensions.