When Charlie Beale drives into a sleepy Southern Virginia town in 1948 with two suitcases – one full of money and the other with “a set of butcher knives, sharp as razors,” he’s ready for a fresh start after the war in Robert Goolrick’s Heading Out to Wonderful.
Goolrick lulls you into the bucolic small town setting with descriptions of the land and the people. Despite the stifling community where everyone knows everyone’s business, Beale settles into the good life, buying some land and eventually a house, getting a dog, and befriending Sam, the five-year-old son of his new boss, who owns the butcher shop in town. The ladies appreciate Charlie’s good looks behind the meat counter, and the men like his skill at playing ball with the young folks. Looks like Charlie may have found his niche.
The story changes when Beale meets Sylvan, the young beautiful backwoods wife of the town’s morbidly obese and richest man, Boaty Glass. Using Sam as his cover, Charlie begins an affair with Sylvan, and the beautiful couple seem to be in love – until Boaty finds out and the story takes a dramatic turn.
Goolrick is a master of settling the reader into a simple commentary on the lives of his characters as they mosy through life, and then suddenly switching them into life-threatening trauma. Just as in A Reliable Wife, Goolrick’s first novel, lustful scenes and deceit play key roles, along with poverty and abuse – with suspenseful twists that will keep you reading.
If you haven’t read A Reliable Wife, check out my review – here