Toole wrote this book as a 15-year-old in Louisiana and submitted the manuscript for a literary contest at the age of 16. It's a coming-of-age story of David, a young man from rural Mississippi who lives on a hill overlooking a small town with his mother, father and aunt. David's internal struggles with pre-World War II southern society manifest themselves into seclusion early on and he digresses further after his father's death in World War II and his mother's descent into grief-stricken mania and eventual passing. David's plight is vividly described in the succinct tone of a young man troubled with personal relationships. His one attempt at romance meets with failure and his doting aunt, whose singing career takes her off to Nashville without David, is never heard from again, despite promises of returning. David's story ends with yet another tragedy which removes him from his childhood home and sets him on the road as a fugitive. Toole shows the descriptive range and grasp of form in The Neon Bible that he later honed to a fine point with Confederacy, and as many others who have read and enjoyed Toole's work would probably attest, emerged as a true American talent until his death by suicide in 1969.
David's father goes off to war, leaving David and his mother to fight poverty and shame on their own in a small Southern town