The fatherless boy, Harry, on his grandmother’s dirty little Nebraska farm during the Great Depression and dust storms, 1930’s, wants to escape east to the big cities – Omaha, Chicago, New York City, Paris.
His 14-year-old uncle torments him, pretending to be a snake ghost; his smothering mother tells him they will leave “later;” his hardened grandmother shoots down chicken hawks with a six-gun, wrings chicken’s heads, doctors herself and the farm animals with raw Lysol capsules, is tortured by Mr. Fenner, the banker, who periodically threatens to foreclose on the farm, and sits near the back door at the Holy Roller church, shouting “Amen!” as the women roll, orgasm, down the purple carpet. Harry’s mother and grandmother construct a tombstone for his dead grandfather. His aunt’s family comes from deep in the sand hills to beg for food, the older boys forcefully remove Harry and his girl cousin’s clothes in the barn hay loft, the mother finds out, runs screaming down the dirt road, the dogs chasing after her…
But Harry has Waggles, given to him as a puppy when his father died.
Waggles is everything to him, understands, is always there, makes it possible to survive the filth, the flies on butchered pig meat hanging on the corn crib, the stinking outhouse, the screams of the castrated pigs, the cyclones, dust storms, blizzards, floods…
But then Waggles is run over.
At last Harry and his mother escape to town as World War ll starts, Harry is forced to plant a half acre “Victory Garden,” suffers erections standing in the front row of the church choir, is given his dead father’s shoes, trumpet, gold watch, and tennis racket by his mother who now expects him to become everything his father could have been. Harry nearly loses his virginity in a vacant barn with Mershon and Colleen, becomes a football player against his mother’s wishes, is determined to master his own destiny, go to the big cities.
But remembers his best friend, Waggles, her death, the loss of innocence, the rest of his life.