Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: "Heading Out to Wonderful" by Robert Goolrick

Robert Goolrick's new book, Heading Out to Wonderful is a terrific follow-up to his creepy, captivating A Reliable Wife. It's 1948, and 39-year-old veteran Charlie Beale arrives in idyllic Brownsburg, Virginia, with two suitcases—one stuffed with cash and the other containing a set of high-quality butcher knives. Brownsburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone, where white and black people don't interact much but treat each other with reasonable respect. After a few weeks of making people wonder just what his intentions are, Charlie gets a job working for local butcher Will Haislett, and quickly becomes a part of Will's family. No one is as enamored of Charlie as Will's five-year-old son, Sam, who worships him with an almost heroic devotion.

Charlie quickly becomes a beloved fixture in Brownsburg. And then he meets young Sylvan Glass, the wife of the town's richest man, Harrison "Boaty" Glass. Boaty literally purchased Sylvan and moved her from her small, hillbilly town to Brownsburg, where she has modeled herself after the women she sees in her beloved movies. When Sylvan and Charlie connect, their passion is both envied and condemned by their fellow townspeople—but it has consequences that threaten to destroy everyone. And the person most caught in the crossfire is young Sam.

This is lyrical, beautifully written book. While you may see much of the plot developments coming, Goolrick unwinds them in a suspenseful way, and you are completely drawn into the town and its citizens. The characters are complex, especially Sam, and you find yourself aching to protect him from all of what is happening around him. Periodically, Goolrick spends a little too much time describing a feeling or an incident, but that doesn't really detract from your desire to know how the story will unfold. The book is haunting, like the old country songs that Charlie listens to in the book, and you'll find yourself thinking about the story and the characters long after you've finished.

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