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. When Randall Hunsacker's father died and his mother moved herself and her two children in with her lover, who was also sleeping with Randall's sister Louise, something in the boy snapped. After shooting loverboy and trying to kill himself, this 17-year-old has a future that's none too bright--especially when his family moves away from Utah, leaving him behind in the hospital--except that his football coach finds him a second chance in Goodnight, on the Nebraska panhandle, where he can start fresh. Soon a star player with a rep for toughness, Randall, in his solitude and strangeness, fascinates the local beauty, Marcy Lockhardt, who takes him as her secret lover, then pledges herself to him openly as he lies on the field dying after a heart-stopping tackle. Miraculously, though, he recovers, and the two wed, only to grow quickly apart thanks to Randall's lack of direction. When he lashes out at Marcy in anger, causing irreparable harm to her sight, she packs up and heads to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Marcy's folks have entered a turbulent time too, when her long-unhappy mom finally goes to bed with a sweet-talking irrigation-pipe salesman who then wheedles from her the nest egg she'd saved to send Marcy to college. He soon vanishes, and while Randall and Marcy are patching things up--he having persuaded her to come home, and both of them having been persuaded to move to the Lockhardt farm--it's the beginning of the end for the folks. Some honest, delicately formed moments here are tarnished by episodes of wildly outrageous plotting, from the playing-field Lazarus ploy to the tangential carving up of a gay Indian caught in flagrante by Goodnight's good old boys.