Heading Out to Wonderful
Robert Goolrick (Adult Fiction)
At thirty-nine years old, Charlie Beale arrived in the town of Brownsburg, Virginia (population 538) in a beat-up truck and toting two suitcases—one holding his clothes and a set of butcher knives and the other filled with cash. Brownsburg is a town where prestige is measured by the size of your floral blooms and the yield of your vegetable garden, where no one divorced, schools let out in May so the children could help with the family’s planting, and everyone believed in God and The Book. It’s 1948 and as soon as Charlie drove into Brownsburg, he knew he was home. When he saw Sylvan Glass, the teenage bride of the town’s wealthiest resident, he knew that he was heading to something wonderful. But Brownsburg is a small town and news—good, bad, and particularly scandalous—travels fast and Charlie is about to find out that wonderful comes with a very hefty price tag.
If I were to give half ratings, this book would lean more towards three-and-one-half stars, but I gave it a three simply because the last twenty pages of the book were so severe and such a drastic departure from the rest of the story that it left me feeling confused and a bit angry. Goolrick is a wonderful storyteller and gives readers an idyllic town where folks sit on their front porch and gossip and the shop merchants know what you want before you cross their threshold. Being a small town, we know that no good will come from Charlie and Sylvan’s illicit relationship and that it is doomed from the beginning; however, Goolrick’s handling of these star-crossed lovers is not only severe, it’s incomprehensible. The last few pages are such a stark contrast to the rest of the story, that it begs one to question what could possibly have made Goolrick deviate so unbelievably from his story and characters? It was almost as if he handed the remainder of his novel to someone else and said, “You take it from here.”
When Charlie entered Will Haislett’s butcher shop looking for a job, Will said to him, “Let me tell you something, son. When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.” The problem with Heading Out to Wonderful, is that we started out in Wonderful and were able to happily hang out and enjoy the scenery for a bit, but somehow we missed a sign or drove too far or made a right instead of a left and suddenly found ourselves far away from Wonderful and instead somewhere between All Right and Okay. Unfortunately, Charlie Beale didn’t have the luxury of GPS tracking in 1948.
*Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com