“A moving evocation of the small-town South in the mid-twentieth century” that “belongs on the shelf with the works of Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty” (Orlando Sentinel).
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.
“Heartfelt emotion, communicated in clean direct prose . . . a remarkable achievement.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“John Kennedy Toole’s tender, nostalgic side is as brilliantly effective as his corrosive satire. If you liked To Kill A Mockingbird you will love The Neon Bible.” —Florence King
“Shockingly mature. . . . Even at sixteen, Toole knew that the way to write about complex emotions is to express them simply.” —Kerry Luft, Chicago Tribune
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.