The story is told by a 1st-person narrator. Fifty-nine-year-old naval lieutenant whose name is Edward is usually referred by other characters as Skipper or Papa Cue Ball (since his head was bald). Even though the tone of the novel strives to be comic and optimistic, the narrator's life is beset by a series of tragic events: his father (a mortician), his wife, and his daughter Cassandra commit suicide; his son-in-law Fernandez is killed after he has left Cassandra to live with his gay lover; Skipper is beaten up and perhaps raped during a mutiny on board of U.S.S. Starfish, the ship he commands in W.W.II; he is harassed by a small clan of shady fishermen on the "black island" in north-Atlantic where he settles after leaving the US Navy. The narrator eventually finds shelter in a tropical island with his black mess boy, Sonny, and his lover Catalina Kate, though it is not clear if the scenes on the island, where Skipper works as an artificial inseminator, are real or simply imagined. It’s a beautiful story where hero Skipper survives never-ending bad and sad luck to find peace in the jungle as an artificial inseminator of cows.
The novel is told in a non-linear fashion through a series of flashbacks. It is then at first difficult for the reader to understand the reasons of some weird episodes, such as the one which takes place in the second chapter, when Skipper, goaded by Cassandra, has the name of his son-in-law Fernandez tattoed on his chest in green ink. We subsequently discover that Fernandez has left Cassandra because their marriage was no more than a masquerade, devised to hide Skipper's incestuous relation to his daughter (which may also explain his wife Gertrude's suicide).