Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Tom McNeal

CROOKED
THE DOG WHO LOST HIS BOB
GOODNIGHT, NEBRASKA
ZIPPED



Crooked
Copyright © 2000
by Laura and Tom McNeal
Bantam Doubleday Dell
How to Buy

Set during the dark winter days in a small town, Crooked explores both commonly accepted cruelties and vicious criminality, yet the tangible yearning and imperfect goodness of both protagonists prevents the novel itself from succumbing to darkness. The crooked slope of Clar's nose — "the thing [she] worried most about ... before everything stopped being normal" — dwindles in significance as both she and Amos bravely face their fears and stand up for themselves. The strands of their stories are cleverly intertwined in this well-plotted and engaging novel. — The Horn Book

All four of these characters become entangled in a suspenseful story that is bound to keep the reader going until the end. This novel has the makings of a truly masterful juvenile thriller. The writing style is gripping. — Children's Literature

The McNeals' recognition of the angst of junior high with its fickle friendships, bullies, and first love make their novel one that mirrors real life. The characters' actions and reactions ring true as they try to cope with all of the changes that life has dealt them and still maintain a grasp on who they are. ... Readers will come away knowing that even though their paths have taken some unexpected twists and turns, these young people are on a straight and sure course. — Library Journal


The Dog Who Lost His Bob
Copyright © 1996
by Laura and Tom McNeal
Albert Whitman
How to Buy

Ages 5-7. The cajoling face of a floppy-eared, brown-eyed mutt on the dust jacket will undoubtedly draw kids to this story about a lost dog....sometimes action packed or broadly comical....and sometimes almost Norman Rockwell-like in their precise characterizations and zesty details. — Booklist

Warm watercolors present Phil as a goofily endearing pooch in a satisfying story of canine capers. — The Horn Book


Goodnight, Nebraska
Copyright © 1999
by Tom McNeal
Random House
How to Buy

July. Nebraska. Saturday Afternoon. At McKibben's Mobil Station, prudently situated at the intersection of Highway 20 and Main Street, a boy, a loner, is the only passenger to step down from the bus. Randall Hunsacker is seventeen, and the small farm town of Goodnight, Nebraska, is his punishment. It's also his last chance to escape events back home — a shooting, a car crash, a family in disarray. And even as he resists absorption into this strange small community, Randall will become a part of it. Goodnight, Nebraska is a stunning first novel about small-town America, where high school football, pheasant hunting and the Friendly Festival are as vital as the wheat harvest. In Randall, Tom McNeal creates an outcast whose redemption lies in Goodnight; and in Goodnight's citizens, he creates an unforgettable populace. Goodnight, Nebraska is Randall's story but it's also the story of the town that takes him in, of the widow Lucy Witt, the Lockhardt family, the Eleventh Man Bar and Grill, and the Sleepy Hollow Trailer Court. — from the jacket

Tom McNeal's Goodnight, Nebraska is the most quintessentially American novel I've read since Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool. Tough-minded and tender, funny and sad, unfailingly entertaining and dramatic, Goodnight, Nebraska is character-driven fiction at its best. And Mr McNeal's harshly beautiful Nebraska landscape and dark little prairie towns are as vivid and true as Ivan Doig's Montana. When award time rolls around this year, look for Goodnight, Nebraska to be right on the list. I read it in one rapt sitting. — Howard Frank Mosher

With a remarkable understanding of the fleeting yet often monumental compromises that form human life, Tom McNeal captures the essence of small-town American existence. In clear and confident prose, he evokes with deep feeling the passing of time, the security of belonging somewhere, the sweet sadness of settling for something less than you wanted. I enthusiastically recommend this splendid first novel. — Willie Morris

Combine Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio with John Cheever's Wapshot Chronicle and you'll have a sense of the zest, humanity, and hard-won wisdom that Tom McNeal has found in his small Nebraska town. It's a piquant novel, full of aching charm, as big-skyed as its landscape, and one of the most engaging views of life on the Great Plains that I have yet to come across. — Ron Hansen

Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska evokes the spare spirit of the Midwest perhaps better than anything in American music. Terence Malik's haunting Badlands does the same thing in American cinema. Now, Goodnight, Nebraska, a phenomenal debut novel by Tom McNeal, accomplishes in literature what The Boss and Malik did for the Great Plains in other forms....Like the later stories of Raymond Carver, Goodnight, Nebraska demonstrates that under the callused hands and hearts lies a soft-beating hope — the chance for reconciliation and acceptance. McNeal has written an uncommonly human novel; he describes a landscape where, however briefly, the numbness disappears and things as insignificant as interlocked hands, a simple statement, or even a drive on dirt roads means something larger, the promise of something better. — BookPage

An irresistibly engaging novel, full of all the things that matter: character, chance, compromise, sex, and violence. — Pete Dexter

...McNeal's description is masterful, like a winter so cold that "pheasants turned into the wind and died where they stood." — Nebraska Life

...impressive... — Publishers Weekly

The intensity of desperation in the American heartland marks this first novel by McNeal, as married life for a young Nebraska couple proves rocky, and even rockier for the bride's long-married parents. — Kirkus Reviews

The story of their marriage, and that of Marcy's parents, explores the small, unremarkable moments on which lives and loves turn for better or worse, for life or death. A fine first novel. — Library Journal

Few novels written today make the reader want to leap inside and join the action. Goodnight, Nebraska, McNeal's first novel, is just one of those gems. His story about love and hatred, loss and redemption in small-town America truly is a phenomenal piece of prose. Goodnight — the name of the town at the center of the story — dispels any rose-colored images of rural life. The harsh, realistic depiction of the meanness and evil produced from ignorance and isolation is reminiscent of lives in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Still, McNeal's mythical small town remains warmly compelling, and as its name suggests, dreamlike, otherworldly, and outside of time. His storytelling is magnificent, deftly changing time, place, and narrator to create a spellbinding plot. — Booklist

You'll want...to buy copies for all your reading friends. McNeal's writing is thoughtful and clear. He breathes full, throbbing life into some two dozen characters, each so startlingly vivid that the book can be read straight throughout without a single pause to sort them out. — San Francisco Chronicle & Examiner

What a remarkable debut! Tom McNeal has...created a small town that is as vivid and alive as Sinclair Lewis's Zenith, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. — Denver Post

Deft, touching, and humorous. In the tradition of Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, and Anne Tyler. — Christian Science Monitor

Stunning. A really wonderful novel; strange, sensuous, bold and unbearably moving. It is also haunting, lyrical and morally complex. McNeal is persuasive on the subject of love and its variations and his writing implies the wisdom of perspective. — The Sunday Times of London

With a slow, sympathetic meticulousness, McNeal delves into the history and feelings of a whole community and exposes its gentle, ordinary heart. By page 50, you're in thrall to its clutch of small dramas; by 300, you're dreading its end. — The London Gazette

One of the season's best first novels....Gentle and bighearted." — Adrienne Miller, Esquire

...a phenomenal debut novel....Like the later stories of Raymond Carver, Goodnight, Nebraska demosntrates that under the callused hands and hearts lies a soft-beating hope. — Book Page

Tom McNeal's novel is a splendid, rich piece of work evoking the bleak small town. Life here is a chore. Little exists to breathe vitality into it. Except McNeal's art. — St Louis Post Dispatch

One to go to bed with — ;a top night-time read. With stunning precision, McNeal offers us a Little House on the Prairie for the Nineties. — Tatler (London)

The questions at the heart of this wonderfully complex novel are: "What happens to a dream deferred?" and "What is the price of deceit?" The ways those questions are posed and answered are well-crafted, surprising, complex, and, at times, beautiful. — Dallas Morning News

An enthralling, irresistible book. McNeal gets it, delivering a strong, true look at the lives of ordinary people. — Lincoln Journal Star

Must read. A miraculous first novel, in which McNeal has taken the unpromising subject of a boy's absorption into a small town and created a literary work that's compelling and unforgettable. — New Woman (UK)

Goodnight, Nebraska is a complex, often suspenseful, and always beautifully told story whose finale will, but shouldn't, surprise you. — San Diego Reader

A strange, bumpy, and memorable trip through smalltown USA...a compelling journey into the heart of American life. — Redbook

McNeal has written a novel at once humorous, absorbing and dark, as much about the shadowy side of human nature as it is about the good. There is great sadness here, and tenderness. But most of all, there is a depth of humanity that many authors never attain. — Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

Randall Hunsacker steps off the bus already resisting Goodnight, and we resist it along wtih him, though we all will be won over....McNeal's sense of character is as truthful as his sense of place. — The Boston Globe

An old show-biz adage has it that you're supposed to leave the crowd begging for more, and does Tom McNeal ever. McNeal's finger isn't on the town's pulse: He has opened up the chest, and has his hands around its heart. — The San Diego Union Tribune

Completely compelling. A beautifully drawn portrait of a town that at once confines and cradles the people who grow up in it. — Linda Wertheimer, NPR, All Things Considered

Fans of Larry Watson's work should also appreciate this first novel from Tom McNeal. It's the frequently gripping story of a troubled youth, off to a bad start in Utah, who gradually regains his bearings in a small Nebraska farming community. McNeal's short story experience is in evidence in his ability to establish strong characters and realistic settings in an economical fashion. The character types should be recognizable to anyone familiar with life in towns too small for secrets. — The Independent Reader

A vivid, tender and thoughtful portrait of a Great Plains farm town. These sad, secret stories bring out McNeal's most assured writing, and are his finest and most lasting gifts to the reader. — Los Angeles Times

Describing Great Plains communities that, "like weeds, spring up when it rains, dry up when it stops," Wright Morris once noted, "The withered towns are empty, but not uninhabited." This predicament — in which the landscape's sheer vastness overwhelms its residents — has always captivated American writers. In the hands of authors as varied as Willa Cather and Jane Smiley, the region's endless skies and vistas can seem as oppressive as the shadowy confines of a jail cell. Fitting squarely within this tradition, Tom McNeal's first novel, Goodnight, Nebraska, delivers us deep into that part of the heartland where just-plain-folks go quietly stir-crazy, even as they're cheerily waving "Howdy" from their pickup trucks....haunting in its descriptive details....a meticulous rendition of the gritty reality of smalltown life. McNeal is aware that many more of us will accept the sadness we know than will venture out in search of a possibly painful unknown — and he renders Marcy's final decision in language whose very plainness feels musical. Resignation has seeped into the pores of all his characters, and it is this quality that he illuminates most effectively.... — New York Times

Goodnight, Nebraska by Tom McNeal is a stunning first novel about small town America. — Ritter Book Reviews

Goodnight, Nebraska is, quite simply, a tale of the American Desolate. It is a story than can only happen in the barrens of Utah that becomes a story that can only happen in the sorrow of Nebraksa. A story of how lonely can become lonesome. A story of a young man and the tragedy his life must become before redemption can be found in the arms of reconciled love. ... The small society he creates is a mixture of Main Street and Gomorrah, a town hwere everyone claims to be innocent, no one can leave, and everyone pays for their sin. To tell of the most striking element of this work would be to spoil the sick surprise that turns into redemtption, communion in a parched land. — Timothy Black, Nebraska Territory

Tom McNeal expertly creates and accumulates a collage of characters in Goodnight, Nebraska who either dysfunctionally, capriciously, or resignedly cope with their human, or inhuman, conditions. ... Is it a good read? You bet. Take it along on vacation. Lend it to your friends and chew on it with coffee or a brew, but watch out for Frank Mears. — Mary Jo Raff, Nebraska Territory

Once I started reading it, I didn't want to put it down and I didn't want it to end. — Rod Wagner, Nebraska Center for the Book News
Zipped
Copyright © 2003
by Laura & Tom McNeal
Random House
How to Buy

When 15-year-old Mick reads an e-mail never meant for his eyes, his world is shattered. His stepmother — his lovable, beautiful stepmother — is cheating with a man named Alexander Selkirk. And Mick’s dad–his quiet, loyal dad–has no idea. Mick is obsessed and burdened with his secret, and nothing can distract him. Not his crush on Lisa Doyle, that Mormon girl on the field hockey team. Not the surprising (but appreciated) affections of Myra Vidal, a famously gorgeous college freshman. Not the strange robberies at the Village Greens, the old folks’ home where Mick works. And on the day he meets Alexander Selkirk, out of the blue, Mick realizes all his problems are all zipped up together — and that he may have to go to drastic lengths to find the solutions. — from the publisher

The McNeals (Crooked, 1999) spin a wonderfully rich story. ... The authors steer clear of moralizing ... and wrap everything up in a most satisfying way. — Kirkus Reviews

The McNeals skillfully weave together several story lines in their well-honed novel about young suburbanites who face adult complications. ... Readers will be sucked in as Mick and Lisa begin to see "the face behind the face behind the face." — Publishers Weekly

Morally ambiguous characters and Mick's haunting dilemma provide intrigue. Readers who flock to Chris Crutcher's books and those interested in Mormon characters and themes will be drawn to this book. — VOYA

Well-realized, sympathetic teen and adult characters populate this novel packed with family problems, romance, and wry humor. ... This is a believable novel that will especially appeal to teens interested in moral ethics and human dynamics. — School Library Journal


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