Book of the Month: August 2012


Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

Literary Affairs recommends Robert Goolrick’s new novel Heading Out to Wonderful as the perfect sink-into-a-lounge-chair read for your last weeks of summer trips and stay-cations! For those who loved Goolrick’s previous novel A Reliable Wife, this richly imagined tale of forbidden passion set in small town U.S.A. in the years after World War II will not disappoint.


It is the summer of 1948 when a handsome, charismatic stranger, Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, shows up in the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village of a few hundred people, nestled in the Valley of Virginia. All he has with him are two suitcases: one contains his few possessions, including a fine set of butcher knives; the other is full of money. A lot of money.

Finding work at the local butcher shop, Charlie befriends the owner and his family, including the owner’s son, Sam, who he is soon treating as though he were his own flesh and blood. And it is through the shop that Charlie gradually meets all the townsfolk, including Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s wealthiest citizen, and most significantly, Boaty’s beautiful teenage bride, Sylvan.

This last encounter sets in motion the events that give Goolrick’s powerful tale the stark, emotional impact that thrilled fans of his previous novel, A Reliable Wife. Charlie’s attraction to Sylvan Glass turns first to lust and then to a need to possess her, a need so basic it becomes an all-consuming passion that threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path.


Robert Goolrick is the author of one previous novel, the highly acclaimed A Reliable Wife, and a memoir, The End of The World as We Know It. Much like A Reliable Wife, Heading out To Wonderful draws on Goolrick’s upbringing in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a place where, he writes, “the chief preoccupations were drinking bourbon and telling complex anecdotes, stories about people who lived down the road, stories about ancestors who had died a hundred years before.” This mixture of past and present, this sense of rich shared history and deep ties to the landscape, is a driving passion in Goolrick’s writing, which is pervaded with a sense of mystery and awe. These traits place Goolrick squarely within the great legacy of Southern Gothic writers from Eudora Welty to Tennessee Williams. As Goolrick notes, “For southerners, the past is as real as the present; it is not even past, as Faulkner said.”

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