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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.
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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.)

Seventeen-year-old Randall Hunsacker gets off a bus in the flyspeck town of Goodnight, Nebraska, convinced that he'll be gone in a year or so. He has come from Salt Lake City, where he has shot his mother's boyfriend and totaled a stolen car. Randall is in Goodnight only through the intercession of his high school football coach, who has talked the Goodnight coach into becoming Randall's guardian. Randall plays bone-crunching kamikaze football, hangs around with the wrong crowd, and falls in love with Marcy Lockhardt, senior class president, honor student, and cheerleader. The story of their marriage, and that of Marcy's parents, explores the small, unremarkable moments on which lives and loves turn for better or worse, for life or death. A fine first novel worthy of your consideration.‘Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.

"You'll want...to buy copies for all your reading friends--flawless."--San Francisco Chronicle "What a remarkable debut!... A small town that is as vivid and alive as Sinclair Lewis's Zenith, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon."--The Denver Post "Deft, touching, and humorous. In the tradition of Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, and Anne Tyler."--The Christian Science Monitor "McNeal is aware that many more of us will accept the sadness we know than venture out in search of a possibly painful unknown--and he renders such decisions in language whose very plainess feels musical."--The New York Times "A vivid, tender and thoughtful portrait of a great plains farm town. These sad, secret stories bring out the best of McNeal's writing, and are his finest and most lasting gifts to the reader."--Los Angeles Times "Completely compelling. A beautifully drawn portrait of a town that at once combines and cradles the people who grow up in it."--National Public Radio "A strange, bumpy, and memorable trip through small town USA--a compelling journey into the heart of American life."--Redbook"

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