Using flashbacks and vignettes, this somewhat awkward novel recounts the youth and presumable maturing of a Midwestern boy, Paul. Paul's mother is in an asylum, his father is a failure. The boy leans on older strangers; his chief triumphs come on the football field and in the Navy; he has trouble with sex and ideals. At the book's end, a sudden cumulative post-Navy despair ends in acceptance--at twenty-one--of life. The men in this book are generally well done; the small-town and Navy characters and incidents are colorful and mature. Two love affairs, with a very young octoroon and an older married woman, are, unfortunately, handled in gauche and adolescent manner. But much of this mixed book is well-written and valid; its basic trouble is that, like its protagonist, it is rather young. High publisher expectation is understandable but reader response is not assured.