#435 ~ Heading Out To Wonderful

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

Published by: Algonquin Books

Published on: June 12, 2012

Page Count: 304

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: Hardcover review copy signed by the author at BEA

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook

Giveaway: The publisher had previously sent me a review copy of Heading Out To Wonderful. I love this book so much, I must share it. Please leave a comment before 11:59pm EST on Monday, June 25 for a chance to win. I will choose the winner using Random.org.

My Review

Charlie Beale enters the small town of Brownsburg, VA during the summer of 1948 with two suitcases. One holds his worldly possessions, including a fine set of butcher’s knives. The second is full of money. He is unsure where he wants to settle down, so he pays a man to park his car by the river and sleep at night while he explores the town. No one knows who he is or where he came from. Still, once he chooses Brownsburg, he is accepted. He is a fine butcher and is hired by middle-aged Will Haislett, the owner of the local butcher shop. Sam, Will’s only child and 5-year-old son, takes a shine to Charlie and Charlie to him. Alma, Will’s wife, takes it upon herself to get Charlie settled into a proper house and to see that he at least tries to attend church. Just as Browsburg has entered Charlie’s heart, he’s entered the heart of the Haislett family. They might have all lived out the rest of their lives contentedly that way had Sylvan, the teenage trophy wife of the town’s wealthiest man, Boaty Glass, had never entered the butcher shop.

The beginnings of Charlie and Sam’s friendship were so heartwarming. Even though Charlie was in his 30s, he was a loner and Sam filled a place in his heart that shouldn’t have been empty. After he buys his house and moves in, Charlie buys a dog because he knows that Sam wants one so badly. Together, they name the dog Jackie Robinson. Charlie is the perfect role model for Sam until one Wednesday night when, while the two are normally out of town together buying and preparing fresh cuts of meat for the shop, Charlie stops at home of Boaty Glass and begins his affair with Sylvan. He leaves Sam and Jackie Robinson in the car and later makes the boy promise not to tell a soul, not even his parents, about what had happened. This irresponsible act made in a whirlwind of passion for a girl obsessed with the drama of Hollywood changes the lives of all involved. Sam is too young to understand what is going on around him and has no one he can talk to about it. Even when confronted with the evidence of how much these secret meetings are hurting the boy, Charlie cannot not stop. He simply does not see clearly how his relationship with Sylvan is compromising everything – his work, his financial decisions, or his sacred trust with a boy he dearly loves.

Sylvan’s life, while not perfect by any stretch, has a glamorous quality. Boaty may be a grossly obese old man who literally bought her from her parents because no other woman would have him despite his fortune, but he took her to Hollywood on their honeymoon. She wears her dark sunglasses wherever she goes and she lives in the movies inside of her head. Even before Boaty, she lived outside of her sheltered life in a town even more rural than Brownsburg via radio drama. Just as adulthood is a logical progression from childhood, Sylvan’s life simply matured into movies when she left home. When she meets Claudie, the town’s seamstress who, had she not been African American, would have been a New York fashion designer, Sylvan’s inner and physical world unite. When strong, handsome Charlie enters the picture and knows how to use his body to pleasure hers, how can her life not be magical?

Robert Goolrick knocked me out of a huge reading slump with A Reliable Wife. With Heading Out to Wonderful, he secured a place as one of my favorite modern authors. His writing is magnificent. From the opening paragraph, I knew I was going to get lost in this book.

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. (page 3)

There are sections of this novel that read like a love letter to Virginia. I live nearby Rockbridge County, where Heading Out to Wonderful is set. Reading those passages opened my eyes to my surroundings in a new way. I also loved the way he wrote his characters. Claudie wasn’t just the town’s African American genius seamstress, she was brave, bold and essential. Sam was especially well crafted. He loves Charlie and keeps his secrets, but he knows he’s lying to his parents. Lying is a grave sin and he becomes tainted in his own eyes. While Charlie is a good man, through his selfishness he steals this boy’s innocence and there is nothing he can do to replace it.

Within the heartbreak of this story, there is joy and beauty. Charlie went all out for Sam’s 6th birthday and, when Sam left for the party and the title of the book was brought in, it gave me chills. His present to Charlie captured my imagination completely. In a year when so many of the books I’ve read have been lovely and memorable,  Heading Out to Wonderful is my favorite. I could not possibly recommend it or any other book more highly.


  • At 2012.06.20 09:30, Anita said:

    I’ve been hearing good things about this book, and I’d love a chance to win a copy. Thank you Jennifer for a wonderful review, you only make me want to read it more. As if I really need more on my reading list…ha ha.

    • At 2012.06.20 17:57, Jennifer said:

      I am happy to oblige, Anita! I do hope you get a chance to read this book and love it as much as I did.

    • At 2012.06.20 09:36, Mary said:

      Wow, fabulous review! I’ve added it to my Must Read list (as well as A Reliable Wife). Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

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      • At 2012.06.20 17:57, Jennifer said:

        Thanks! I hope you read and enjoy both books eventually.

      • At 2012.06.20 11:06, Sue Boggio said:

        A Reliable Wife blew me away and I can’t wait to read Heading Out to Wonderful. Thanks for the cogent review that whets my appetite even more. Robert Goolrick is joining my list of favorite male authors, along with the likes of: Richard Russo, Michael Chaban, Jeffry Euginides, Barry Udall, Aravind Adiga…

        • At 2012.06.20 17:59, Jennifer said:

          Sue, you have definitely placed him in great company! I hope you like Heading Out to Wonderful as much if not more than A Reliable Wife. So good!

        • At 2012.06.20 13:27, Sandy said:

          I know you loved A Reliable Wife (as well as 2 billion other people) but I was not one of them. I actually felt BAD about it! With that in mind, I’m not sure if Goolrick is my scene. Jury is still out on it, even though i do consider your recommendations seriously.

          • At 2012.06.20 18:01, Jennifer said:

            Sandy, if you check the comments after yours, you will find you’re not alone. I will say that Heading Out to Wonderful is most definitely a Robert Goolrick novel, but it’s also different from A Reliable Wife. If you do give him another chance, I hope you enjoy this book better.

          • At 2012.06.20 14:48, Sharon Pelletier said:

            I missed this galley at BEA, but I didn’t try very hard – I am one of the rare ones who didn’t cotton to A RELIABLE WIFE (gave up after a few chapters). I’ve heard such glowing, absorbing things about HOTW that I’m willing to give it a try! And who knows – maybe I’ll pick ARW back up again one of these days.

            • At 2012.06.20 18:04, Jennifer said:

              Sharon, I am not sure what it was about ARW that didn’t catch you, but HOTW is a much different story. ARW was much more consistently dark. If you end up giving this book a try, I hope you like it better.

            • At 2012.06.20 15:35, Julie said:

              Interesting. I echo Sandy’s comments. I just don’t think I can read another one of his books.

              • At 2012.06.20 18:07, Jennifer said:

                What was it about ARW that didn’t work for you? I’m curious. I loved ARW, but I also realized that it probably wouldn’t be for everyone. HOTW has its dark moments, but it’s no where near as dark as ARW.

                • At 2012.06.20 22:43, Julie said:

                  I found the obsession with sex distracting. I felt that it was beaten into my head when I actually got it the first time it was shared with us readers. I ended up like it more in the last 1/4 but I almost put it down.

                  I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it.

                  • At 2012.06.21 15:37, Jennifer said:

                    I can definitely understand that. There was decidedly less sex in HOTW. I found out my mom read it and I about choked. She said she skipped the sex and loved it. You learn something new about your mom every day. 🙂

                    • At 2012.06.22 16:08, Julie said:

                      That’s like my sister and I were saying that we’d want to throw up if we found out our mom’s book club was reading 50 Shades trilogy. 🙂

              • At 2012.06.20 15:55, amanda (tnrunner66) said:

                I loved A Reliable Wife and am really looking forward to this one. Thanks for the chance to win a copy. Really liked your review!

                • At 2012.06.20 18:07, Jennifer said:

                  Thanks, Amanda! Good luck!

                • At 2012.06.20 17:14, Deb B. said:

                  From the initial description, this didn’t sound like a book for me but your review is so positive that I think I might need to try it. I’ve not read Goolrick before.

                  • At 2012.06.20 17:22, Rhapsodyinbooks said:

                    I loved this also, but I think I will always love whatever he writes!

                    • At 2012.06.20 18:08, Jennifer said:

                      I think I will, too. Have you read his memoir? I need to get my hands on it.

                    • At 2012.06.20 18:58, Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick said:

                      Yes!! I cannot wait to read my copy! Just downloaded it from Netgalley last week and am ready to read away. As you know, I loved everything about A Reliable Wife. I was fine with the sex and morbidity within it, I just couldn’t put that one down so I am so looking forward to this one.

                      • At 2012.06.20 22:30, FABR Steph said:

                        I have had my eye on this book, so I appreciate your great review. It is a pleasure, isn’t it, when a setting is somewhat familiar. I recently experienced that in a book and I felt very much the same, “awakened to the surroundings”.

                        • At 2012.06.21 05:37, Serena said:

                          All the talk of Virginia must have warmed your heart. This sounds like a great read and I’m glad that it came unsolicited…It’s sitting on my shelf and I hope to get to it soon.

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                          • At 2012.06.21 09:41, Felicia said:

                            Wow, fabulous review! I must add to the ever growing TBR list!


                            • At 2012.06.21 09:49, techeditor said:

                              I’m so glad I found your blog! I emailed you so I can follow by email.

                              And thanks for this book offer. I’ve had HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL on my to-read and wishlist ever since I first heard about it.

                              • At 2012.06.21 10:02, Carl said:

                                Thanks for this review. My wife and I are always on the lookout for authors we have not yet dicovered. Robert Goolrick sounds like he might be one we would both enjoy. Please enter my name for the chance to win this copy.

                                • At 2012.07.03 14:20, Jennifer said:

                                  Congratulations! You are my lucky winner! I’ll be sending you an email.

                                • At 2012.06.21 11:15, Beth Hoffman said:

                                  My goodness … what a terrific review! I wasn’t sure if this book was one I’d enjoy, but you’ve totally convinced me to give it a try. It’s going on my list right now.

                                  • At 2012.06.21 14:55, Ti said:

                                    This book reminds me of that old movie with Bill Holden and Kim Novak…Picnic. Guy comes to town and everyone is affected in some way by his arrival. I really can’t wait to read this one.

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                                    • At 2012.06.22 10:20, Jenn's Bookshelves said:

                                      I completely agree with everything you’ve written. I read this for a freelance assignment and I was immediately taken in! I agree that it reads like a love letter to Virginia, one of the many reasons this book got my attention!

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                                      • At 2012.06.24 09:39, Elisabeth said:

                                        Thanks for the giveaway, I am another who enjoy Goolrick and look forward to reading his new book one way or another.

                                        (Required, will not be published)

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