The Neon Bible

The Neon Bible

Book - 1989
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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.
Publisher: New York : Grove Weidenfeld, 1989
Edition: 1st Evergreen ed
ISBN: 9780802132079
0802132073
Characteristics: xi, 162 p. ; 21 cm

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m
mikey69
Dec 13, 2020

John Kennedy Toole is dead. His novels, though, are full of life. A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES looks at New Orleans through a satirical lens. THE NEON BIBLE - written when he was only sixteen - is a weighty account of growing up poor in a small Southern town during WWII with everyone knowing your business. Excellent reads, both.

m
maiki69
Nov 24, 2019

At the age of 31, John Kennedy Toole took his own life. It was an enormous loss to the literary world, although no one yet knew it. Fame for Toole came too late. He'd written a manuscript but struggled to get it published. It's supposed that his dream of becoming a published author proved too elusive, and on March 26, 1969 the promising young writer snuffed himself out of existence.

Fast forward to 1976. Toole's mother, convinced of her son's genius, delivers a manuscript to Walker Percy who was teaching creative writing at Loyolla University. She pronounced it a masterpiece, and - doubtful at first - Percy agreed. In 1981, that manuscript, that "masterpiece", won a Pulitzer Prize for Toole. It was A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, a satirical take on life in New Orleans. With its success, interest in Toole grew, but due to Louisiana's bizarre inheritance laws, his second manuscript - THE NEON BIBLE (Grove Press, $9.00) - would wait eight more years before it could be published.

Written at the age of sixteen, THE NEON BIBLE is an account of life in a small Mississippi town. Set in the forties, it follows the life of David and his family. The town is full of characters, mostly bigoted. A town in which "If somebody got to hate something and he was the right person, everybody had to hate it too . . . " There are a number of town bullies, the preacher leading the way. It's a town that labels poor treatment of others as Christian charity. David and his family are the recipients of such charity in the form of expulsion from the church because they can't afford the dues. It's a town where one's wealth correlates directly with their prestige in the Kingdom of God, and being from the wrong side of the tracks is a sin. About the preacher, David reflects:

"If [the preacher] stole some book he didn't like from the library, or made the radio station play only part of the day on Sunday, or took somebody off to the state poor home, he called it Christian. I never had much religious training, and I never went to Sunday school because we didn't belong to the church when I was old enough to go, but I thought I knew what believing in Christ meant, and it wasn't half the things the preacher did."

David is from the wrong side of the tracks.

When Aunt Mae - about sixty with a sketchy past as some sort of performer "on the stage" - comes to live with David and his family, the town punishes them accordingly. David describes Aunt Mae as "a big bright sweet-smelling flower . . . A red one, maybe, that had a strong smell like honeysuckle, but not quite so innocent." At first Aunt Mae is bold and flamboyant, a source of comic relief, and loveable. As time goes by though, we witness Aunt Mae's bloom fade, a victim of small-minded townies. Eventually, things take a tragic turn.

With THE NEON BIBLE - named for the neon sign mounted atop the church - Toole peels back the exterior of the small Southern town and exposes its ugly substrate. His brilliance, though, isn't in calling out the hypocrisy which invades the whole of town life. The author's brilliance is in successfully capturing the soul of a small town through the eyes of a boy, and leaving us with an indelible record of small town Mississippi life in the 1940s. Toole won a Pulitzer posthumously for CONFEDERACY; it would be terrific to see THE NEON BIBLE take its rightful place in American literature as well.

s
stewstealth
Jun 01, 2018

Amazingly poignant and insightful novel for a sixteen year old to have written. Good characterizations, settings and narrative pace. This short novel is quite unlike the author's A Confederacy of Dunces but worth reading if you are interested.

i
irenecos
Sep 07, 2015

For a 16-year-old writer this novel is very good. Worth reading

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m
mikey69
Dec 13, 2020

In 1976, Toole's mother, convinced of her son's genius, delivered a manuscript to Walker Percy who was teaching creative writing at Loyolla University. She pronounced it a masterpiece, and - doubtful at first - Percy agreed. In 1981, that manuscript (A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES) won - posthumously - a Pulitzer Prize for Toole. He also had an additional manuscript, discovered after his death, that would take another eight years to see publication due to Louisiana's bizarre inheritance laws.

THE NEON BIBLE, written at the tender young age of sixteen, is an account of life in a small, bigoted Mississippi town during the 1940s. Written from the perspective of a young boy named David, the town is full of small-minded townspeople eager to beset their morals on others. "If somebody got to hate something," David observes, "and he was the right person, everybody had to hate it too . . ." Town bullies include the preacher, from whose sign atop the church the novel derives its name.

Enter Aunt Mae. A veteran of the stage far beyond her prime, she brings the only color to the town. Without Aunt Mae, there is no story. She provides the source of the novel's tension, delivered in such innocent missteps the reader can't help but love her and see the moralists for fools. She is also David's only window to a world beyond town and the distant horizons observed from a home the family shares on a hilltop perch. Prior to Aunt Mae, David's world only extends as far as his eyes can take him. After Aunt Mae, its possibilities are endless. Such is the trade-off for loss of innocence.

In his final chapter - a chapter beyond CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and THE NEON BIBLE - John Kennedy Toole wrote himself out of existence. At the age of 31, the promising young writer committed suicide, and the literary world is forever the lesser for it.

m
maiki69
Nov 24, 2019

Written at the age of sixteen, THE NEON BIBLE (Grove Press, $9.00) is an account of life in a small Mississippi town. Set in the forties, it follows the life of David and his family. The town is full of characters, mostly bigoted. A town in which "If somebody got to hate something and he was the right person, everybody had to hate it too . . ." There are a number of town bullies, the preacher leading the way. It's a town that labels poor treatment of others as Christian charity. David and his family are the recipients of such charity in the form of expulsion from the Church because they can't afford the dues. It's a town where one's wealth correlates directly with their prestige in the Kingdom of God, and being from the wrong side of the tracks is a sin.

David is from the wrong side of the tracks.

With THE NEON BIBLE - named for the neon sign mounted atop the church - Toole peels back the exterior of the small Southern town and exposes its ugly substrate. His brilliance, though, isn't in calling out the hypocrisy which invades the whole of town life. The author's brilliance is in successfully capturing the soul of a small town through the eyes of a boy, and leaving us with an indelible record of small town Mississippi life in the 1940's.

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m
mikey69
Dec 13, 2020

Aunt Mae was more like a big bright sweet-smelling flower to me. A red one, maybe, that had a strong smell like honeysuckle, but not quite so innocent."
-John Kennedy Toole, THE NEON BIBLE

m
maiki69
Nov 24, 2019

With THE NEON BIBLE - named for the neon sign mounted atop the church - Toole peels back the exterior of the small Southern town and exposes its ugly substrate.
http://www.penhead.org/

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