Heading Out to Wonderful

Written by Robert Goolrick
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In Robert Goolrick’s second novel, Charlie Beale arrives at Brownsburg, Virginia in 1948. Beale is carrying two suitcases; one is filled with butcher knives; the other, money. The first thing Beale does is purchase some land and get a job at the local butcher shop. There, he makes friends with Sam Haislett, the five-year-old son of Will and Alma, owners of the shop.

Sam idolizes Beale, who he immediately nicknames “Beebo.” Part of the attraction is that Beale is younger and more athletic than Will Haislett and is willing to spend a great deal of time with Sam. Beale settles into the small community, garnering respect for his kindness and the care he takes with his customers. His world seems well-ordered, modest, gentle and filled with the simple joys of living. This haven Beale has created for himself is shattered when he meets Sylvan Glass, the teenage wife of the town’s richest man. Goolrick’s prose is rich, wise and beautiful:

The thing is, all memory is fiction. You have to remember that. Of course, there are things that actually, certifiably happened, things where you can pinpoint the day, the hour, and the minute. When you think about it, though, those things mostly seem to happen to other people. This story actually happened, and it happened pretty much the way I’m going to tell it to you.

Throughout the book, such fine writing carries the doomed story up to its very end. However, the ending did not work for me. Without disclosing the events in the story, suffice it to say that the characterization of both Charlie Beale, especially Charlie Beale, and Sylvan Glass does not add up to what happens to them both.