Goodnight, Nebraska

Tom McNeal, Author
Tom McNeal, Author Random House (NY) $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-679-45733-6
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Open Ebook - 978-0-307-55647-9
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-00658-4
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-375-70429-1
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The downward life trajectory of a youth from a blue-collar family who is unmoored by his father's death and the discovery of his mother's and sister's promiscuity is at the heart of this impressive but flawed first novel. After an impulsive act of violence in the book's opening chapters (which contain the narrative's most assured writing), Utah high-school football star and budding mechanic Randall Hunsacker avoids reform school by agreeing to resettle in Goodnight, Nebraska, a tiny community that McNeal evokes with some fine insights into small-town life. There, after first alienating the townspeople and confirming his role of outsider, Randall becomes, in a stroke of bizarre good fortune, a minor hero and soon marries the town belle, Marcy Lockhardt. Randall's subsequent behavior, though arising from his wounded and distrustful nature, is less than credible, as he again sabotages his chances. The biggest problem here is that Randall's eventual redemption is too schematic. In fact, there are too many instances in which a events are determined more by contrivances than by credible characterization. McNeal often explains (rather than shows) his characters' traits with portentous solemnity and adds such explanatory statements as ""in other words,"" and other clumsy parenthetical asides. These awkward devices, and McNeal's attempt to broaden the narrative by interweaving the lives of many members of the Goodnight community, result in a lack of focus. Yet McNeal is a talented writer, and there are enough affecting characters and moving scenes in this novel to bode well for his future books. 30,000 first printing. (Mar.)
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