At the age of 17, Randall Hunsacker shoots his mother's boyfriend, steals a car and comes close to killing himself. His second chance lies in a small Nebraska farm town, where the landmarks include McKibben's Mobil Station, Frmka's Superette, and a sign that says The Wages of Sin is Hell. This is Goodnight, a place so ingrown and provincial that Randall calls it "Sludgeville"-until he starts thinking of it as home. In this pitch-perfect novel, Tom McNeal explores the currents of hope, passion, and cruelty beneath the surface of the American heartland. In Randall, McNeal creates an outcast whose redemption lies in Goodnight, a strange, small, but ultimately embracing community where Randall will inspire fear and adulation, win the love of a beautiful girl and nearly throw it all away.
"Few novels written today make the reader want to leap inside and join the action. Goodnight, McNeal's first novel, is just one of those gems. His story about love and hatred, loss and redemption in small-town America truly is a phenomenal piece of prose. Goodnightthe name of the town at the center of the story--dispels any rose-colored images of rural life. The harsh, realistic depiction of the meanness and evil produced from ignorance and isolation is reminiscent of lives in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Still, McNeal's mythical small town remains warmly compelling, and as its name suggests, dreamlike, otherworldly, and outside of time. His storytelling is magnificent, deftly changing time, place, and narrator to create a spellbinding plot. He brings to life a great cast of characters: Randall, the mysterious boy from out of town; Marcy, the all-American girl who loves him in spite of herself; and numerous others who are likable in spite of their anger, resignation, and other petty faults. In all, a wonderful book and, hopefully, a harbinger of more good works to come from McNeal. --Ted Leventhal"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved