A beautifully told story of human failings and yearnings,
HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL. By Robert Goolrick. Algonquin. 292 pages. $24.95.
“Brownsburg, Virginia, 1948, the kind of town that existed in the years right after the war, where the terrible American wanting hadn’t touched yet, where most people lived a simple life without yearning for things they couldn’t have.”
Into this small town one day arrives Charlie Beale, a stranger from parts unknown. He has a suitcase full of his things, which include a set of high-quality butcher knives, and a suitcase full of cash, which he’s using to buy up land in the country around Brownsburg.
He’s looking for a place to settle down, a place to call home, though he is warned that “before you get to wonderful, you’re going to have to pass through all right” and Brownsburg is all right.
Goolrick makes sure it’s not an idealized small town.
It’s strictly segregated, some men beat their wives and everyone else pretends not to notice, and there’s plenty of sin for the hellfire-and-damnation preachers to rail against.
But he also imbues the novel with a strong sense of place in both the town and the surrounding countryside of mountains and valleys, rivers and farms, the breeze and the winding roads and the old mountain songs; it’s easy to see how the natural beauty of the land could be taken for “wonderful.”
Goolrick spools out the events at just the right pace, interspersing the progression of the protagonists’ illicit passion with other events as well as fleshing out some of the other people in town.
But always lurking, as in Goolrick’s previous novel, “A Reliable Wife,” is the dark undercurrent of suspense, as we hurtle toward finding out what happens.
And hurtle we do in this book, a beautifully told story of human failings and yearnings, of redemption sought but never quite attained.
Reviewer Gaylord Dold, a writer for The Wichita Eagle