Heading Out to Wonderful
By Robert Goolrick
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Paperback, 9781616202798, January 2013, 313pp.)
The Short of It:
Complex, well-developed characters and the lure of small town life make Heading Out to Wonderful an entertaining read.
The Rest of It:
The story takes place in Brownsburg, Virginia just after World War II. Brownsburg is a small town, population 538. The kind of simple, southern town you’ve come to know from movies and books. Everyone knows everyone so when a stranger by the name of Charlie Beale arrives, people can’t help but notice. In one hand, he carries a suitcase full of knives and in the other, a whole lot of money. After getting a job at the local butcher, he ends up befriending the butcher’s young, five-year-old son, Sam. The two become inseparable. For a while, it looks as if Charlie has found a place to call home.
Boaty Glass, the richest man in Brownsburg buys himself a young farm girl to become his wife. Sylvan is young and beautiful but not as dumb as Boaty thinks. After securing her place firmly within his home, she transforms herself into a shiny, sparkly thing, surrounded by the best that life has to offer which includes a custom wardrobe made by a woman in town. Impressed with the Hollywood starlets she sees at the movie house, she begins to model herself after them. Wanting nothing but fame and fortune, she begins to resent her time with Boaty and Boaty has taken to putting her in her place, both verbally and physically.
When Charlie Beale sees Sylvan for the first time, he sees a beautiful girl, trapped in a marriage she does not want. The need to save her becomes an obsession and when the two begin to meet regularly, you quickly realize that no good can come of it.
I’m not sure how well-received this book was when it first came out. Following the wickedly good, A Reliable Wife, I am guessing it did pretty well. But for some reason this one slipped past my radar until just recently. I am so glad I finally picked it up.
This book has a little bit of everything. There’s the love triangle of course which makes for some juicy reading, but the small town feel of it and the friendship between Beale and the boy seemed especially tender. There was a sweetness to all the nastiness and Sylvan Glass was such an interesting
woman creature. As wicked as she was, I felt as if I understood where she was coming from, which always surprises me. I don’t consider myself a vindictive, conniving human being but I must have a dark streak somewhere because I eat this stuff up.
I enjoyed Heading Out to Wonderful very much. It’s the type of book that makes you question motive and with characters like Sylvan and Boaty, you could spend hours trying to figure them out. Plus, the writing has that atmospheric quality that always pulls me in. Goolrick’s take on small town life really puts you right in the center of town. It’s quite impressive how quickly I was pulled into the story. If I were to compare his two books, I’d say this one is the tamer of the two, but certainly no less complex than the other.
If you haven’t given his books a try, do so!
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