Title: Heading Out to Wonderful
Author: Robert Goolrick
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
When Charlie Beale shows up in the small town of Brownsburg in 1948, the locals don’t know what to make of him. He quietly begins buying up land around town and goes to work as a butcher. He becomes close to the butcher’s son, Sam, and begins treating the boy like his own. But when Charlie meets Sylvan Glass, the young wife of the town’s wealthiest man, a chain of events is set into motion that no one can predict.
Heading Out to Wonderful has a sense of foreboding hanging around it. From the beginning, when Charlie arrives in this idyllic Virginia town, the reader knows the sense of peace surrounding it will not last. Goolrick does an amazing job writing a serene setting while still maintaining undertones of despair and darkness. It seems like a beautiful town, but it quickly becomes clear that something bad is coming. This feeling ratchets up over the course of the book; the reader knows things are heading somewhere bad, but is compelled to keep reading regardless.
Goolrick’s characters are textured and layered; he takes care even with the most minor of personalities in Heading Out to Wonderful. Charlie is a good man. From the beginning, it’s clear that he just needs someone to take a chance on him and he’ll do well. That is, until he meets Sylvan Glass. Sylvan is a bit of an enigma to the reader; because we only see her through Sam’s eyes, it’s sometimes difficult to understand her. That’s not to say she’s poorly written, because she isn’t at all. But she presents a mystery, and those who love complex characters will be itching to dissect her personality.
Above all, Heading Out to Wonderful is a dark tale of obsession, and how it can ruin even the best of circumstances. Whether you’re obsessed with a person, or with escaping what your life has become, or with making sure that others envy you, it can lead to nothing good. Goolrick presents multiple characters, each with their own unique longing, and with that need, they sow the seeds of their own destruction.
The narration of Heading Out to Wonderful is well done; the reader sees the story slowly unfolding before them. It’s the way a story would be told aloud, and it makes for a lovely reading experience. As always, Goolrick’s prose is lush and beautiful; it will leave readers weeping for the sad story he is telling. Whether you’re a fan of Robert Goolrick or new to his literary fiction, if you’re interested in quiet stories with deep running themes and well-drawn characters, you should consider picking up this book.
Other books by Robert Goolrick: