Compulsively readable but unabashedly romantic flight of autobiographical fancy (coming-of-age as a naval recruit in 1953 Florida) from the popular newspaper columnist and author (Flesh & Blood, 1977; The Invisible City: A New York Sketchbook, 1980; etc.). An opening note states that Hamill served at Pensacola's Ellyson Field naval base in 1953-54. He clearly draws deeply on that experience here, offering crisp and emotionally vibrant evocations of the steamy southern landscape--torn by racial violence and rank with sexual tension--in which 17-year-old Brooklyn boy Michael Devlin is initiated into the adult mysteries of love and honor. Framed as the reminiscences of a middle-aged Devlin on a soul-searching jaunt back to Pensacola, the novel picks up young Michael's tales as he leaves Gotham on New Year's Eve, 1952, on a bus headed for Florida. On the bus, Michael meets old salt Jack Turner--whose own ribald tale is the first of several first person stories set like side-bars in the main narrative--and, most importantly, Eden Santana, a 30-ish temptress whose passion is the crucible in which Michael forges his adulthood. The subplots/subthemes flow thick and quick--Michael's ambition as a cartoonist running into ART, personified by his new best pal, a gay and eventually martyred sailor/painter; friendships with black sailors and consequent tangles with racist bullies and then the KKK; contempt for a thicknecked sergeant; etc.--but all are framed and infused with meaning by the stormy liason with Eden and its surprise, bittersweet ending. Generous, erotic, melodramatic, self-indulgent storytelling as Hamill, engines on full, conjures up great sweeps of emotion anchored by impeccable period detail and a cast of memorable, true characters. A novel that you'll settle in with, and will be sorry to see end.