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The Neon Bible
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135 of 139 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading The Neon Bible for the second time. Having read A Confederacy of Dunces years ago (and several times) I didn't know quite what to expect. Further, since I knew this was written at age 16 and withheld from print for years, I expected something a bit unpolished and simple. (To be honest I felt this might be another fine example of 20th Century money grubbing by hangers on.) This book is surely neither unpolished or simple. The story unfolds in a fashion that makes it hard to beleive that such a young author could have had so much inate skill. The charaters are real and well detailed. The story pulls you along but allows you to enjoy your trip. I cannot think of another book that fits in this class. The southern flavor compares well with Welty, Edgerton, O'Connor and Sams. Well worth the investment of reading it twice.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
In and of itself, this book is wonderful; pure and honest prose. What is truly amazing beyond the pithy language is the fact that a 16 year old wrote it. We all know the author for his fantastically famous C.O.D., and for those of us who love that book, this book is a treasure. An insight. Clearly, this author had many "voices" and at the age of 16, his "voice" was quite different. And quite wonderful. Having read both books many times, I still can't believe the same author write them. What a person of such enormous depth he must have been. And how tragic that he never got to experience the praise that was eventually lavished upon him. Priase he so fully deserved.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 1997
Format: Paperback
Toole wrote only two books in his short life, and what markedly differing books they are! THE NEON BIBLE, although published last, was the first of Toole's novels, written when he was just a teen. While it lacks the much-touted satirical humor found in A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, THE NEON BIBLE is a valiant first effort, one deserving of the praise which came to Toole too late to provide the publishing opportunity he longed for.
Author Florence King has likened this novel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And while it has much in common with the storytelling approach of Harper Lee's book, it more accurate to call THE NEON BIBLE a short, Southern version of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, told from the male perspective, of course. We listen, interested, as David tells us the story of his childhood in an isolated valley community. In his own way, David learns what Christianity is and is not. And as a young man he makes a difficult but realistic discovery: "They used to tell us in school to think for yourself, but you couldn't do that in the town."
I gave THE NEON BIBLE a 9, not a 10, primarily because of some unexplained anomolies in the plot. For example, he knows his Aunt Mae is not coming back for him, yet he quits his good job anyway, and we never know why. Plot points such as that one make you feel that the character has stopped thinking like a real person for a while.
Vastly different from his second, Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, THE NEON BIBLE shows us that Toole had many tools, and that he refined them over the years of his short, unrecognized career. People who speculate about his potential as an author are more than justified. I, too, find myself wondering what we've missed by his absence . . . .
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
First of all, for anyone to have written a novel like this at age sixteen is nothing short of amazing. Granted, some of the description does not entirely ring true, but for a teenager to possess such acuity when it comes to people and society is remarkable. John Kennedy Toole was such a gifted observer of humanity's foibles despite his young age that "The Neon Bible" contains truths and witticisms that most writers double, and even triple his age could only hope to aspire to. Tragically, there also seems to be a world-weary edge to the novel that no sixteen year-old should have to bear, a burdensome cynicism that undoubtedly contributed to Toole's tragic suicide in 1969 at the age of thirty-two.

Toole is best remembered for his Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces (Evergreen Book) - which his mother succeeded in publishing a few years after her son's suicide. While he had tried (and failed) to get "Confederacy" published during his lifetime, Toole never intended for "The Neon Bible" to see print; he thought that it was too juvenile. But after "Confederacy" became a raging success Toole's family began to see dollar signs and, following a crass legal battle with Toole's mother, who sought to carry out her son's wishes, "The Neon Bible" was cleared for publication in 1989. The legal ordeal is outlined in the novel's introduction by W. Kenneth Holditch, who inherited the rights to "The Neon Bible" after Toole's mother's death, and who eventually lost the fight to respect Toole's wishes.

In his introduction, Holditch hopes that the two novels Toole wrote in his lifetime will "constitute testament to a genius," and they certainly do. If nothing else, reading "The Neon Bible" will make you wish that its truly gifted author had had a long, storied career to explore the full range of his talent. Is "The Neon Bible" perfect? No. It is all promise - the promise of a developing talent that was broken with Toole's unfortunate suicide. Despite its mature insights, it hews too closely to the tried-and-true. Toole had not yet found his confidence as a writer, and so he presented a somewhat clichéd coming-of-age tale that breaks few boundaries and remains steadfastly in the zone of `safe' literature. It is worthy of note, of course, but primarily as the first effort of an author who would later break many of the rules he adheres to so strictly here.

So let's give Toole an A for being so skilled so young, but let's give "The Neon Bible" a C+.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 16, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A young boy is riding a train...

A young boy named David lives with his parents during a very poor time, around the time of The Great Depression. His mother is feeble, and his father is a frustrated, poor man who feels the pressure of providing for his family. Shortly after the beginning of the story, his Aunt Mae, who was a singer and showgirl decades ago, comes to live with them.

The town in which he lives is almost Puritanical; it's very narrow-minded, very religious in a backwards way. There is no other knowledge than that of the preacher and his lackeys. Because of this set up, most of the town is already opposed to, or irritated with Aunt Mae. With her fancy dresses, city attitude, and independence, she sticks out like a sore thumb. So, the family is poor, disliked, the mother is sick, the father is desperate, and the boy also has a problem; he's terribly shy and naïve around girls his age.

The boy, his mother and aunt deal with the daily problems caused by being the ostracized heathens in a moronic, bigoted, stereotypical hick town. Run-ins with local religious leaders, uppity rich folks, and pretty school girls ensue.

Problems and tragedy strikes as the family tries to make life meaningful, all the while struggling against the inevitableness of heartbreak, anguish, and the harsh decisions (and harsh consequences) life presents. Eventually, David finds himself with just as many questions as answers, and a new, difficult life ahead.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 1998
Format: Paperback
and listening to Journey. When John Kennedy Toole was 16, on the other hand, he was creating this sad, sweet tale that will charm and delight you. It is a first effort, true, but I would put it against any other 16-year-old's effort without worry. Read this and you'll see how the man who brought us "A Confederacy of Dunces" saw the world as a boy. Can you imagine what his third book would have been like?
Do read Dunces first. If you don't appreciate that, never mind this book. Just go get professional help for your humor/insight deficiency.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Neon Bible tells of one boy's struggle to grow up in small-town America during the war years. It paints a picture of a small, claustrophobic world oppressed by narrow religious bigotry that eventually leads the story-teller to find the courage to make decisions that would change his life.
A tender, nostalgic, powerful novel written simply but effectively, The Neon Bible evokes emotions that are communicated in clean, direct prose. John Kennedy Toole wrote this book when he was only sixteen. He followed it years later by A Confederacy of Dunces, which was to win him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. Though I don't believe The Neon Bible can match his brilliant second book, it is still an amazing achievement for a sixteen year old, and clearly demonstrates the true loss suffered by the literary world upon Toole's premature death in 1969.
Most writers, even those who have been writing for years with a modicum of success, would dearly like to be able to pen a novel as powerfully effective as The Neon Bible. It many ways, it makes me think of John Grisham's attempt to break out of the mould when he wrote `A Painted House'. The difference is that Toole touches numerous raw nerves that Grisham does not. (In fairness, Toole could probably never have handled courtroom drama like Grisham!).
If, like me, you enjoy reading books that cover a broad spectrum of topics, The Neon Bible should most definitely be on your book shelf.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
I was thrilled to find out that there was another novel in existence by the author of the funniest book ever written, Confederacy of Dunces. While this book is as insightful as Confederacy, it is sad, not funny, so don't expect the belly-laughs you got from Confederacy. But you should not skip this book either because even at 16, when Toole wrote this book, he was a great writer with even greater potential. It was a tragedy not just for him that he took his own life, but for us as readers.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Small town life in the South during the 1930's and 1940's leaps off the pages of John Kennedy Toole's The Neon Bible. With the Great Depression, the family suffers a financial and social fall from grace when Poppa loses his job. They are forced to move to the fringes of town where rents are cheap; they no longer go to church because they no longer have the money to tithe. Aunt Mae, who had been "on the stage," is the closest thing the church-going town's people can find to a jezebel; never mind that Jesus Christ took Mary Magdalene into his fold. When the preacher comes to take Mother, who is emotionally demented, to a place not mentioned by name but for her own good, David, the protagonist, can no longer stomach the imposed benevolence of the preacher and his oppressive, decreed moral standards that are really his lust for power, conformity to his way of thinking and doing, and censorship - that is, things NOT to his way of thinking and doing. The Neon Bible. It's John Kennedy Toole's gospel truth.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
What is most remarkable, to me, about The Neon Bible is that John Kennedy Toole wrote such a well constructed novel at such an early age. Not only is the novel well constructed, but Toole's observations of society are especially profound. Two passages are quite memorable to me, "She didn't know she was the only thing I ever wanted to have that I thought I'd get," and "They always had some time left over from their life to bother about other people..." Toole was obviously born with deep insight and the gift of writing it on paper; it is amazing that he had to struggle so despairingly to get his Confederacy of Dunces published.

I read Confederacy some years ago. I enjoyed it, but I was fully unaware of Toole's back story at the time. After reading The Neon Bible (which I hadn't know about, and discovered quite by accident), I now know that we lost an important literary voice when Toole committed suicide in 1969.

Unlike others, I cannot compare The Neon Bible and To Kill a Mockingbird-To Kill a Mockingbird, for me, is a different book in a completely different voice. The themes of youthful innocence are similar, but where Harper Lee's novel reads with elegance and grace, Toole's is grittier and darker. Regardless, his message is important. Many of us of a certain age remember the South he describes, and as I read I had memories popping out that I, at his age, would never have had the prescience to write about.
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