Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Goodnight, Nebraska

Goodnight, Nebraska by Tom McNeal was originally published in 1998. My Vintage paperback copy is 314 pages. I'm not sure exactly what I expected from Goodnight, Nebraska, McNeal's debut novel, but it did deliver. In some ways it is another redemptive tale, this time of forgiving yourself, but in other ways it is a bleak, fatalistic novel where, really, in the end everyone has lost something. I do have a few minor quibbles with Goodnight, Nebraska, beyond the inclusion of too many parenthetic comments in the text.

First, in some ways the characters are masterfully drawn, in other ways.... not so much. McNeal examines the weak spots in his character's and that is what we see. Everyone comes across as fatally flawed. I can't help but think, even with all of our flaws, people do have strengths and often those strengths rise way above their flaws. It isn't all bad all the time. I also felt McNeal would introduce characters and then dump them, like Randall's mother and sister, like the coach and his sister, etc.

Second, I really think that a strong case could be made for this novel being closer to a set of short stories featuring many of the same characters. There was a bit too much jumping around and not all of it was beneficial to the story. While the first part of the book set in Utah held my rapt attention, then Randall moved to Nebraska and the story started to shift. The shift wasn't necessarily bad, it just wasn't quite as good as the first part. These shifts continue until the end, in which Goodnight, Nebraska found redemption, as far as my rating is concerned. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
"At the age of seventeen Randall Hunsacker is a young man desperately in need of a second chance: he has just shot his mother's boyfriend, stolen a car, and is on the verge of killing himself. His redemption may lie in a small Nebraska farm town....A seemingly ingrown provincial backwater, Goodnight is also a town full of love and loss that may just be the perfect place for Randall to call home.
Randall is an outcast searching for a fresh start in Goodnight, where he inspires fear and adulation, wins the love of a beautiful girl, and nearly throws it all away. In this pitch-perfect novel, Tom McNeal....explores the currents of hope, passion, and cruelty that lurk beneath the surface of the American heartland."
"I have a college buddy who coaches high school football in Nebraska....He'll assume custody of you. You'll live with his aunt, who's a widow, and he's got you lined up with a part time job at a garage....Your mother's gone, Champ....If you go to Nebraska, the courts will seal your records.... Nobody will know anything about the shooting...." pg. 40

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