In one year's time Breslin goes from his best novel--Table Money (1986)--to his worst, a throwback to The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. There are many amusingly bitter moments here and a marvelously detailed, caustic vision of the New York welfare system, but Breslin uses only ten percent of his talent in evoking this vision. Calling it ""a fable,"" he shows us the lives lived by the poorest of human animals on the Queens/Brooklyn border at Howard's Beach--but feels he doesn't have to be believable. Black humor demands excess, of course, but here a gummy tedium sets in early and lifts only in spots of brilliant passagework that are again swamped by a forced performance. The story, whose tooth-and-nail anticlericalism carries many notable moments, is about a virgin Catholic priest, Father D'Arcy Cosgrove, originally from Ireland, who has been plucked out of Africa by the Pope and sent to the States to attack sexual degradation. On a visit to Africa, His Eminence was struck by the figure of Father Cosgrove racing about pasting cloths onto the bare breasts of native women so that the Holy Father would not have his sight poisoned. Cosgrove's quixotic stateside quest finds him accompanied by a seven-(sometimes eight-) foot cannibal called Great Big. Rabidly antisexual, Cosgrove falls in with welfare blacks in bombed-out buildings who survive by making babies and for whom violence is cherry pie. He tries to reform them and the incredible welfare bureaucracy, and at the same time falls in with the Howard Beach Mafia. The story's two main climaxes have Great Big eating first a Mafia leader and later the top welfare bureaucrat--showing that life in benighted Brooklyn/Queens is just as man-eat-man as in darkest Africa. Jimmy nods.