A breezy first novel about growing up poor in Erie, Pa., in the 50's and 60's--sometimes quite funny, but finally marred by self-consciousness and lack of direction. The narrator for most of the novel is young Jarvis Loop, who lives along with his father, Red; mother, Helen; and grossly fat genius of a sister Neda in a ramshackle house in a working-class section of Erie. They're all a bunch of wild and crazy guys--two-fisted Red is an ironworker always at odds with wife Helen, a fanatical Catholic who keeps one room as a shrine to the Infant of Prague; Helen eats tons of Mars bars daily, and snarls like a wild dog at anyone who gets near her; and Jarvis himself likes to shoot heroin with his black friend Willie and burgle the houses of his straight, All-American high-school classmates. This is not to mention gun-toting redneck neighbors like Karl Marksman, who keeps cannons on his porch and, as the novel opens, is about to celebrate the Fourth of July by firing one off. But, told in a sometimes irritatingly elliptical fashion, the story mainly concerns Red and Jarvis. Red loses his job and is forced to sell toilet paper for a living, yet spends most of his time as the self-appointed ""mayor"" of the neighborhood, keeping the peace as blacks move in and people like neighbor Marksman do a slow burn. Jarvis' burglaries become more and more daring, and at the close he's caught in the home of a classmate. He has a gun--will he use it to get away? The author coyly refuses to tell (""what happened there at Bobby Hancock's house that night had a big affect on me, but that would be a different story""), and then we learn that he's working on a sequel, Energetic--but an uneven entertainment.