Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
In 1948, the Appalachian town of Brownsburg, Virgina, was a place "where no crime had ever been committed" (p. 4). Robert Goolrick's Heading Out to Wonderful describes just how much that town was about change after 39-year-old Charlie Beale drove into town, apparently to stay.
Here's the summary:
It is the summer of 1948 when a handsome, charismatic stranger, Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, shows up in the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village of a few hundred people, nestled in the Valley of Virginia. All he has with him are two suitcases: one contains his few possessions, including a fine set of butcher knives; the other is full of money. A lot of money.I haven't yet read Heading Out to Wonderful, but there are several things about the book that attract me besides the Southern setting (which you all know by now is a favorite of mine). First, the opening pages are so well written and so thought provoking that I know I'm going to be swept away by the rest of the book. The first line is, "The thing is, all memory is fiction." And by the second page we realize this is a story about something bad. Our narrator survived it, but we don't know who he or she is or what that person lived through.
Finding work at the local butcher shop, Charlie befriends the owner and his family, including the owner’s son, Sam, who he is soon treating as though he were his own flesh and blood. And it is through the shop that Charlie gradually meets all the townsfolk, including Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s wealthiest citizen, and most significantly, Boaty’s beautiful teenage bride, Sylvan.
This last encounter sets in motion the events that give Goolrick’s powerful tale the stark, emotional impact that thrilled fans of his previous novel, A Reliable Wife. Charlie’s attraction to Sylvan Glass turns first to lust and then to a need to possess her, a need so basic it becomes an all-consuming passion that threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path.
Told through the eyes of Sam, now an old man looking back on the events that changed his world forever, Heading Out to Wonderful is a suspenseful masterpiece, a haunting, heart-stopping novel of obsession and love gone terribly wrong in a place where once upon a time such things could happen.
Second, several reviews have mentioned that the novel is like a ballad and that there are a number of musical references. And Goolrick himself mentions being influenced by country music in an interview with PW. I'm curious about the rhythm of a book written in a way that reminds readers of song.
Finally, I like a coming-of-age / loss-of-innocence story and this one seems to be about not only a young boy but also about a community. Or perhaps the book is a statement about how America was changed by World War II. In any case, I'm curious and can't wait to read past Chapter 1.
Here are some other views (click on the links for the full reviews):
- Publisher's Weekly: "Like any good ballad, the narrative builds slowly to its violent climax, packs an emotional punch, and then haunts readers with its quintessentially American refrain."
- Emily at A Reading Odyssey: "It's the story of otherwise good people who choose to let evil into their hearts, and the blinding love of a small boy for a man he calls Beebo, who instinctively knows something about protection but is too innocent to understand what happens around him."
- Amy at Life by Candlelight: "Goolrick manages to take a fairly common theme and turn it into something surprising and affecting."
Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.