Goodnight, Nebraska

Short reviews of recently published books.

Off the Bookshelf

Goodnight, Nebraska
by Tom McNeal

Vintage, $12 paper

Goodnight, Nebraska begins as a standard coming-of-age story. Tom McNeal's young protagonist Randall Hunsacker likes to fix things -- mostly cars. He isn't much on conversation. His family are the type of people commonly associated with doublewide trailers and pickup trucks. They don't have Internet access. When Randall moves to Goodnight, to stay with a widow after family tensions explode, the story's narrative widens to include the residents of this small town. McNeal contrasts the gradual maturation of Randall and the woman he loves with the unfolding weaknesses of her parents. However, Randall never seems to come of age -- he just gets older. There are various storylines -- each handled deftly -- and the author's descriptions of peripheral characters are apt: He writes that a man fascinated Randall "in the way that a live snake in a clear jar might." Randall's sister, a young woman with a smart mouth, refers to their apathetic mother as "deboned." McNeal writes poignantly of the aches in people's hearts, and the stumbling courses of their aspirations.

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