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The Neon Bible: A Novel Hardcover – May, 1989

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1 edition (May 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802111084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802111081
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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.

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Customer Reviews

I just finished reading The Neon Bible for the second time.
Jack L. Keller
It has a digestible way of narrating a difficult and emotionally nuanced life and has a compelling writing style.
As a huge fan of A Confederacy of Dunces I was intrigued to read the book written by a young John Kennedy Toole.
Laree Ott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 136 people found the following review helpful By Jack L. Keller 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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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By A Customer 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 By 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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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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jason VINE VOICE on December 15, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified 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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