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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

2/17/12        I read and reviewed A Reliable Wife, an ARC from Algonquin in 2010; I didn't exactly like it, but in many ways I appreciated it.  Algonquin has sent me several more books lately, including Heading Out to Wonderful by Goolrick, and I was a bit hesitant about reading it because of my mixed feelings about A Reliable Wife.

However, in the way of things, I opened and read a bit from the first few pages and found myself falling into the language.  Even reading some aloud to my husband, something I rarely do.  The language, though, is so beautiful and the imagery so vivid that I couldn't resist sharing.

How I hope I love the entire book as much as I've loved the first few chapters.  Even if I don't end up loving the book-- I will.  

What a paradoxic, self-contradictory statement!  Yet Goolrick's writing in Heading Out to Wonderful is so lovely, so painterly-- as if he limns each sentence.  It has the beauty of an illuminated manuscript in its context, if not with visual decoration, in the clarity of the images he creates with words.  It fairly glows.

It isn't a book to read fast, to rush through.  There is a building of tension, but it isn't as important as Goolrick's voice which lingers in your head when you put the book down.

The language is elegantly simple, luminous and lovely:

"Brownsburg, Virginia, 1948, the kind of town that existed in the years right after the war, where the terrible American wanting hadn't touched yet, where most people lived a simple life without yearning for things they couldn't have..."  (5).

"The people moved about their daily business and did the things that life laid out for them to do, always aware of the mountains that ringed them in, blue in the summer twilights, the light turning from white to gold to rose as they sat on their porches.  In the black winter, they sat in front of their wood stoves and listened to the sad and joyous songs of mountain women and plains cowboys on the radio before they went to their early beds"  (9).

"All this country music was new to him, and he liked it.  It felt like home, the thin, high mountain voices singing about heaven and hell and betrayal and loss.  There were songs about love and murder.  Something about these songs made Charlie remember what it was like to be in love, made him want to feel that way again" (25).

"It was music.  It was gospel.  It was their hearts' true belief, those old men, and Charlie, listening, believed, not so much in the gospel, but in the foreverness of the thing, the music, the brothers, the valley itself, and that was more forever than any man could take into his mind" (37).

(I included page #s even though this is an advanced reading copy,  just to give a sense of rhythm and chronology to the excerpts)
2/25/12       I finished the book a couple of days ago.  Just as I suspected, my feelings are mixed.  It is a beautifully written novel in which I was always eager to immerse myself, but  from the very beginning I knew that things would happen that I'd rather not.  

No wonder I picked so many passages about music.  The novel is a folk song, a country song--it is a ballad, and you know the content of ballads.   Not only is Goolrick's writing lyrical, but the narrative is set to a kind of silent music and belongs in the Appalachian tradition with roots back to medieval England and Scotland.   This is a story whose setting and characters will remain with you.

The book is scheduled for publication in June, but can be pre-ordered.  

Fiction.  Literary Fiction.  2012.  292 pages.


  1. I have A Reliable Wife, but I still haven't read it... One day!

  2. Kailana - I'm still ambivalent about A Reliable Wife, but Goolrick's ability to create atmosphere is wonderful!

  3. I like the idea of a book like a country song, the passages are very nice. I will at least keep it in mind.

  4. I think I have a copy of A Reliable Wife somewhere in my stacks. This book sounds lovely, too. I may try to find it on audio. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. I think I read Reliable Wife but if I did it sure didn't make an impression. Will have to look back through my blog. Maybe it's just the title that's familiar so I think I've read it.

    Your descriptions of Goorick's writing is lyrical in itself. Have you thought about writing a novel? Heading Out to Wonderful is such a fun title. I hope it holds its promise all the way to the end.