Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tom McNeal, Goodnight, Nebraska (1998)

In observance of turning 70 today, I'm reviewing a book from my home state, Nebraska, set in my favorite part of it, the treeless, rolling terrain of the Panhandle. The Goodnight of the title is a small town, surrounded by the uncompromising harsh beauty of the landscape, where the characters' lives depend much on the ability to withstand solitude and isolation.

Randall, the young protagonist, contracts into a self-protective stoniness as he fetches up here on his own like a shipwreck victim. Marcy, the girl who becomes his sweetheart, strives for a hard-won personal independence from her hard-working farmer parents. The teenage couple's late-night lovemaking and eventual marriage are an against-all-odds attempt to keep from being swallowed up by the indifference of the natural world and the conventional expectations of their small-town world.

 Given the explosiveness of young Randall's character, his insensitiviy, and his distrust of others, it's a welcome surprise when he grows to steady and responsible manhood. So is his loyalty to Marcy and his willingness to regard her as an equal in love and marriage. He even agrees to her leaving him for an adventure of her own in California. Her discovery of him asleep in his pickup, parked in the driveway at her apartment house, the smell of rural Nebraska still filling the cab, is a wonderful portrayal of the bond that holds them together.

Another long sequence in the novel describes a hunting party that grows progressively unnerving, as the more trigger-happy in the group get steadily drunker and more frustrated at the lack of game. There is an ominous threat of trouble as you follow them, page after page, and eventually learn of the dark deeds of the day.

Tom McNeal's Goodnight, Nebraska is currently available at amazon, AbeBooks, alibris, and Powell's Books, and for kindle and the nook. Friday's Forgotten Books is the bright idea of Patti Abbott over at pattinase. 

Coming up: Buster Keaton's Go West (1925)


  1. Turning 70? Happy birthday, man. You've still got the energy. That's good!

  2. Happy birthday! I read this book a dozen or more years ago--I don't remember much about it except that it was on my desk and a someone from NE was in my office and saw it and made some comment about me not judging their state on this book! They thought it was too dark.

  3. 70! I wouldn't have guessed past 50, sir. Happy birthday, Ron.

  4. Happy Birthday--you're still as dewy as morning sagebrush!

  5. Happy birthday, Ron! McNeal's book is on my shelf.

  6. I'm a half year behind you Ron. Happy Birthday. I'd say that GOODNIGHT NEBRASKA is on my shelf also but my bookcases are already full. Instead the book is on the floor, in a stack of similar books, on a case of beer. Hopefully I won't run our to time before I get to read it!

  7. Enjoyed your review, Ron.

    Happy Birthday! I'm one year behind you. :)

    I was in Nebraska once upon a time, in the early sixties. Driving through. I liked what I saw.

    The funny thing was, I had been lamenting leaving New York behind a day or so before, and a glimpse of, I think, Omaha, cheered me right up.

  8. Great review, and wishing yo the happiest of birthdays! (Mine was Wednesday, but I'm a few - very few - years behind you.

  9. Thanks, everybody for the birthday wishes.

    Charles, I'm hoping the energy is the last thing to go.

    Sage, Nebraska does get dark, though usually at night.

    Elisabeth, thanks. It was.

    David, 70 feels like 50.

    Clare2e, I'm blushing.

    Richard, I reckon it will stay there until you take it down and read it.

    Walker, how do you get to the beer if it's under a stack of books?

    Yvette, I'm sure the Omaha Chamber of Commerce would have been happy to hear about that; I'm sure it's not a common experience for people from New York.

    Richard, Happy Birthday to you, too.

  10. I have noted, for other people, Ron, books will move for access to beer. (I only get to drink near-beer, myself, with the diabetes drugs.) Happy belated, and I will look for McNeal. I'll have to dig out my Craig Lesley anthos and see if I've read him there...but they're less locatable than the beer...

  11. Happy belated birthday, Ron. Sorry I missed it.

  12. Happy Birthday. One your recommendation, I just purchased and downloaded Goodnight, Nebraska. Look forward to reading it.