Friday, August 18, 2017
THE NEON BIBLE by John Kennedy Toole
Clearly, The Neon Bible has its flaws. The prose lacks polish; the eponymous religious advertising sign fails to become a novelistic motif akin to its obvious precursor, the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby; and the ending is whiplash abrupt and largely unsuccessful in its modulation from the novel's heretofore controlled, bitter social satire to full-bore Southern Gothic violence. But even that last criticism, which is strong but fair, seems caddish when directed at a novella written by a 16 year-old. (How many mature, admirably realized books did you write at sixteen, Mr. Tolstoy? And you, Mr. Joyce? Et vous, Monsieur Proust? How many books worth reading--and reading seriously--have ever been written by 16 year-olds? I can think only of Rimbaud's poems and this novella.) The Neon Bible, with all of its flaws, would be a perfectly acceptable first novel from a writer in his late twenties. When I remind myself that Toole was in his mid-teens at the time of writing, my lower mandible strikes the floor with an audible thunk. These pages proclaim a prodigy. It's tragic that no one was listening.