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The Neon Bible [Paperback]

John Kennedy Toole
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Written by the late Toole at age 16, this novel on its surface has little in common with his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces . Whereas Dunces is, in Walker Percy's words, "a great rumbling farce of Falstaffian dimensions" satirizing modern society via a cast of grotesque New Orleans characters, the early novel is a lyrical attempt at realism in which social criticism is implied but not stated. Growing up in a small town in rural Mississippi, David gradually learns the painful lessons of religious, racial, social and sexual bigotry, and comes to perceive the need to defend himself, a reluctant outsider, from people; in Dunces , Ignatius Reilly, who rallies around the cause of social isolation and misanthropy, has long practiced a vigorous campaign against the evils of society. One novel chronicles an awakening, the other an uproarious and bizarre plan of action. Though interesting to read as a naive effort by a writer who later far surpassed it, The Neon Bible is a compendium of authorial first steps and missteps, from awkwardly obvious moralizing to mawkishness and improbable melodrama.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This youthful novel was the only substantial writing left by Toole, who won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for his modern comic classic, A Confederacy of Dunces (he killed himself in 1969). Court action has finally cleared the way for publication of the present work, written when Toole was just 16 and left in pieces to his heirs. While far from the masterpiece Toole would write later in his life, this story of a poor boy growing up in a small, claustrophobic, closed-minded Southern town in the 1940s, is an astonishing accomplishment for an adolescent. Narrator David lives with his mother, who is never fully herself after his father dies in World War II, and his gaudy Aunt Mae, a bleached-blonde roadhouse singer in her 60s. The story is familiar and believable, a tantalizing reminder of the talent that has been lost. It deserves a wide audience.
- Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Heartfelt emotion, communicated in clean direct prose . . . a remarkable achievement.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A powerful novel that belongs on the shelf with the works of Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty. It is a moving evocation of the small-town South in the mid-twentieth century, and it is an expertly crafted tale of an adolescent boy finding the courage to make the decisions to change his life.”—William McKeen, Orlando Sentinel

“John Kennedy Toole’s tender, nostalgic side is as brilliantly effective as his corrosive satire. If you liked To Kill A Mockingbird you will love The Neon Bible.”—Florence King

“Shockingly mature. . . . Even at sixteen, Toole knew that the way to write about complex emotions is to express them simply.”—Kerry Luft, Chicago Tribune

From the Inside Flap

John Kennedy Toole--who won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his best-selling comic masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces--wrote The Neon Bible for a literary contest at the age of sixteen. The manuscript languished in a drawer and became the subject of a legal battle among Toole's heirs. It was only in 1989, thirty-five years after it was written and twenty years after Toole's suicide at thirty-one, that this amazingly accomplished and evocative novel was freed for publication.

The Neon Bible tells the story of David, a young boy growing up in a small Southern town in the 1940s. David's voice is perfectly calibrated, disarmingly funny, sad, shrewd, gathering force from page to page with an emotional directness that never lapses into sentimentality. Through it we share his awkward, painful, universally recognizable encounter with first love, we participate in boy evangelist Bobbie Lee Taylor's revival, we meet the pious, bigoted townspeople. From the opening lines of The Neon Bible, David is fully alive, naive yet sharply observant, drawing us into his world through the sure artistry of John Kennedy Toole.

"Heartfelt emotion, communicated in clean direct prose...a remarkable achievement."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A powerful novel that belongs on the shelf with the works of Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty. It is a moving evocation of the small-town South in the mid-twentieth century, and it is an expertly crafted tale of an adolescent boy finding the courage to make the decisions to change his life."--William McKeen, Orlando Sentinel

"John Kennedy Toole's tender, nostalgic side is as brilliantly effective as his corrosive satire. If you liked To Kill A Mockingbird you will love The Neon Bible."--Florence King

"Shockingly mature.... Even at sixteen, Toole knew that the way to write about complex emotions is to express them simply."--Kerry Luft, Chicago Tribune

John Kennedy Toole was born in New Orleans in 1937. He received a master's degree in English from Columbia University and taught at Hunter and the University of Southwestern Louisiana. In 1969, frustrated at his failure to interest a publisher in A Confederacy of Dunces, he committed suicide. Toole's book was eventually published, after his mother brought the work to the attention of Walker Percy and insisted that he read her son's manuscript. Percy became one of the novel's many admirers and The Confederacy of Dunces was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. Following that posthumous success, The Neon Bible, which Toole had written when he was sixteen, was first published in 1989.

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