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Goodnight, Nebraska Paperback – June 1, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Randall Hunsacker, the protagonist of Tom McNeal's first novel, Goodnight, Nebraska, is only 17, but already he has two strikes against him: his father's death when Randall was thirteen led to a succession of "stepfathers" moving through his life and the last one, Lenny, Randall has shot. The shooting, a suicide attempt, and a stint in juvenile hall is what brings Randall to the small town of Goodnight, Nebraska--a place where he hopes to start over. He gets a job, earns a place on the high school football team and even starts dating one of the cheerleaders; things are looking up for Randall. But in a town like Goodnight--Hicksburg, to Randall, or ShitdeVille--what goes up must eventually come down. And so it is for Randall--he gets injured during a football game and his girlfriend, thinking he's dead, announces they are engaged, and before he knows it, he is married, living in a trailer, facing a life that seems to have dead-ended before it even got started.

Appearances can be deceiving, however. To Randall and his wife, Marcy, Goodnight seems like the last place on earth; he never imagined himself coming here, she never stopped dreaming about getting out. Much of McNeal's novel has to do with the gradual disintegration of Randall and Marcy's marriage; at the same time it limns a warm portrait of a middle-American town that may not be very exciting to live in, but one where people know they can count on each other in a pinch. It takes Marcy leaving--and Randall going after her--to finally teach them both that there's really no place like Goodnight. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 2nd edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780375704291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704291
  • ASIN: 0375704299
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what I expected from this novel, but I can say for certain it wasn't much. Maybe because it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust for the past three years, and my excitement for it had all but disappeared. However, now that I've finally read it, I can say with confidence how wonderfully surprising Goodnight, Nebraska is! The writing is flawless, the storyline is compelling, the novel...simply perfect.
Tom McNeal's novel tells the story of Randall Hunsacker and his seemingly dysfunctional life. Beginning in Utah and the shooting of his mother's boyfriend, Randall gets another chance at life when offered free room and board and a spot on the high school football team in Goodnight, Nebraska. While there, in addition to being feared and admired by his teammates, Randall falls in love with Marcy Lockhardt, a beautiful and popular cheerleader. What progresses afterward is a slowly unfolding story of the love, loss, friendship, loyalty and betrayal experienced not only by Randall, but by those that surround him.
I was captivated by this novel and hated putting it down so I could work and sleep. Tom McNeal has captured the perfect small town tapestry, where everyone knows your business and nothing goes unnoticed. Teen angst is only one small part of this terrifically moving story. A novel of surprising depth and honesty -- I loved it!
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Format: Hardcover
Says the FBI agent investigating a murder on the Pine Ridge. He continues, "But you see, it's not flat at all." That's my reaction to this wonderful book. This book has the long view, eyepopping, like the sky overhead, and it has its shorts, up, down again, unexpected. I don't get some other comments as I read them here online. One says McNeal can't draw characters, that these are too broad...I can't believe it! I never cry when I read a book and I found myself crying several times during this novel, not because McNeal was ever melodramatic, or pulling my emotional strings, but because so many of the details were so right! Reactions to grief, reactions to the stark facts of death, reactions to love and attraction and fear, and gossip...I don't care what time people have to leave to get to the football game in Lincoln and that would probably be one detail that might matter to a Nebraskan, but I am one, and I was past caring. This is a real book, by someone I suspect is a very keen and caring listener, so generous it made my heart swell when he wrote so truely, and compassionately; it made me question my own reactions to the rural people I've known in my life, and judged. One reviewer here says that these kind of events would take generations; what do we have in the twisting evolution of characters' lives but those very generations? Those incidents can and do happen and I know they do because I've lived them.
To those who say this is not a novel, I say shame on you, especially if you are a writer. This book clearly follows the fates of Randall and Marcy, and if you don't realize how other characters come along for the ride in life, then you are not living. This novel is more real than most I've read in a long time....why?
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Format: Paperback
Many of us will recognize the fictional town of Goodnight, located in the Nebraska panhandle somewhere between Chadron and Rushville near the Niobrara River. We grew up in, or have close ties to, a place just like it - some small town where the main forms of entertainment are the Friday night high school football games and pheasant hunting, and where folks get curious if you happen to be going down the street in a different direction than usual. Goodnight is where 17 year-old Randall Hunsacker is sent after his life turns wrong in Provo, Utah. Randall has two things going for him: he's a helluva free safety and a hard- working auto mechanic. And then Marcy Lockhardt, the most popular cheerleader, starts to pay him some attention. This novel is Randall's story, but it's also the story of a variety of people from the town, most notably the staid and successful farmer and his bored and disillusioned wife, who become Randall's in-laws. McNeal draws the setting and characters without ever hitting a wrong note. (The football game scene should draw chuckles of familiarity from small town natives.) And the more we come to know these people, the more we see a striking contrast emerge between the men, who find an anchor in routine, and the women, who long for a release from the monotony. McNeal examines his characters' weak spots. As Randall tells his wife, the weak spots are what define us. When that spot gets pushed and everything else about you falls away, what's left is who you are.
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Format: Paperback
The treeless, rolling terrain of Nebraska's panhandle and an isolated small town are the setting for this novel, and the uncompromising harsh beauty of this landscape provides an environment for characters whose 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. Their late-night lovemaking and eventual marriage are an against-all-odds attempt to save themselves from being swallowed up by the indifference of the natural world and the conventional expectations of the small town world they inhabit.
What pleased me most about this book was how often it took unexpected turns. Given the explosiveness of young Randall's character, his insensitiviy, and his distrust of others, his growth to manhood, steady and responsible, is a welcome surprise. So is his loyalty to Marcy and his willingness to regard her as an equal in love and marriage, even letting her leave 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 moment of the bond that holds them together and to their home.

Another long sequence in the novel describes a hunting party that grows progressively unnerving, as some of the more trigger-happy in the group get steadily drunker and more frustrated at the lack of game.
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