Philip Archer, now liberated in his thirties from a life of durance vile, looks back on his orphaned boyhood and youth. Philip wilted in his salad days -- first, with that dour duo, Aunt Ella and Uncle Pat O'Neill, and then gentle Uncle Dinny, solemnly bonkers, who thought he was a priest. It was while quartered in the Irish keep of the family that Philip was gradually immobilized by terror at St. Raymond Nonnatus parochial school, run by ""The Little Sisters of the Inquisition,"" who walloped alike those ""who cooperated heartily with Divine Grace and those who fought it to a standstill."" Philip is miraculously snatched away from a Monday of beatings (both clerical and lay) to be sent to his WASP relatives the Archers -- ""put them on horseback and you'd have your own little tableau of the Apocalypse."" The O'Neills were doom's punching bags; the Archers were its partners. At last after years of being kept out of the way via boarding schools, and one brief disastrous escape to the South, Philip is ""on his own"" but still inert. However, in an implausible but soothing denouement, Philip meets, and gets The Girl, pecks his way out of the egg laid by too much love of losing, and starts a new lifestyle. Although some of this is rushed and thin, certain scenes are outstanding -- double-edged in hilarity and pathos: the breezy hustling of an undertaker in a decaying neighborhood of the old ways and the stunted young; a dadaist dialogue at a rural lunch counter, etc. Uneven but appealing all the same.