A biographic, epic novel of a young Greek-American growing up in the shadow of his mother's insanity, this exults in richness of memory and imagery, flounders under some first-novel flaws. It begins dim then vivid, more remembered than recreated, in the good years of Philip Neros' early childhood; soon, under the weight of too many children, the Depression, and the neglect of a hardworking and possibly unfaithful husband, his queenly mother becomes melancholic, then shouting, slovenly, obscenely fat, and childhood's pleasures turn to chaos and fear and the need to build a private world. The frightening and disgusting, monstrous and sad image of the mother (like Allan Ginsberg's mother in ""Kaddish"") haunts Philip through the years of his own self-discovery, in a grim foster home, in school, in a first love, in mad New York City; he learns life for most people is pervaded by family tragedy, yet good in its richnesses of solitude and lust and loyalty. Philip as a writer is overconscious and maudlin, and time spent writing, even in Greece, isn't much of a story. The real work of pain, order, and homage is done in the first three-fourths of the book and in its closing pages; and here -- sweet, sad, big and real, delicate and moving -- it has a life's sprawl and indeterminacy with a life's self-refreshing unity.