A barnyard romp with a distinctly Twainian twang--in a first novel that revels in the wonders and pitfalls that await a young lad on his perilous journey toward adulthood. Living alone with his father on their small North Carolina farm, Virgil Hunter is the picture of contentment until the sheriff and his deputies come along to drag him off to school. He complies with the letter of the law--which says only that he has to attend, not that he needs to learn anything--and defeats all efforts to make him open his mind: the principal's letters home go unread into a jar along with all his illiterate father's other personal mail, while the school psychiatrist--a balding, sweating voyeur--is undone by Virgil's graphic description of his efforts to get a pet chicken to lay her eggs. Deciding to work on his ``social interaction'' skills during summer vacation, Virgil considers work in a local plastics factory, but by merely applying he so disastrously upsets the delicate balance of deception and intimidation in management that he decides to leave. A first sexual encounter is more fulfilling but occurs much against his will, as he prays fervently for deliverance from sin even while his clothes are being stripped away, then seeks absolution from the local priest only to find his confessor keeping mysterious company. A passion for passing the football finally proves his real redemption, ending his isolation once and for all and unfolding a new world of ``peer-group associations'' to his eyes. Eccentric, wry, and often hilariously scatological--if also curiously more reminiscent of literature from the previous century than from our own. Still, a promising beginning.