A first novel that is no more than a loose arrangement of scenes from a Depression-era, Deep South childhood. Silas O'Riley Simeon describes some episodes in his life in the small town of Deen, Alabama, from fourth grade up to his 1944 departure for the war as a bombardier with the Army Air Corps. Silas, a white boy from a comfortably middle-class, Presbyterian family, is a marbles champion; he also has a figurative Jar of Marbles (the novel's central, albeit unconvincing, image), into which go those people whose lives seem entwined with his own. There is sweet blond Sylvia, the reverend's daughter who gives Silas his first kiss--in a chinaberry tree; his tender-hearted friend Shelly, the judge's son, a math whiz; and his other best friend Blue, the black yardboy (``he was my black poem, and I was the white paper he scribbled on''). The most outlandish ``marble'' is Zulu, a mulatto midget who is a circus performer and flimflam artist; after Zulu has conned the boys out of a hundred dollars, the Sheriff just beams and makes the midget his deputy. Similarly, when Silas steals his Uncle George's De Havilland to go joyriding, he escapes punishment from his uncle and the Sheriff, mellowed out on a bottle of Old Raven. Stroud pulls all his punches this way, as he projects an extraordinarily benign world; the strain becomes evident later on, as Sylvia has an unwanted pregnancy and abortion and Shelly, after being rejected by the military, commits suicide. The joys and terrors of childhood/adolescence dissolve in a kind of aw-shucks facetiousness: an unsatisfying debut.