My Thoughts On: Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

Posted July 6, 2012 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 11 Comments

Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publish Date: June 12, 2012
304 Pages
Source:  Finished Copy from publisher

An attractive and enigmatic stranger — Charlie Beale, a loner recently home from the war in Europe — wanders into the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village of only a few hundred people nestled in the Valley of Virginia. He brings with him two suitcases: one contains all his worldly possessions, including a set of butcher knives; the other is full of money.

Charlie quickly finds a job at the local butcher shop and through his work there meets all the townspeople, most notably Sam Haislett, the five-year-old son of the shop’s owner, and Sylvan Glass, the beautiful, eccentric teenage bride of the town’s richest man. What no one anticipates is how the interaction of these three people will alter the town forever, and how the passion that flares between Charlie and Sylvan will mark young Sam for life.

Told through the eyes of Sam, now an older man looking back on that time, this much-anticipated second novel from Robert Goolrick is an exciting, erotically charged, and altogether unforgettable story of love gone terrible wrong in a place where once upon a time such things could happen.(summary from Goodreads)

Heading Out to Wonderful 
by Robert Goolrick

My Thoughts: Before going any further, you guys have to know that I am a huge fan of Robert Goolrick. I’ve never read another author quite like him – with the ability to take a character and make it such a real person. His characterization is completely unparalleled to me and I am in love with his work. When I read A Reliable Wife a while back, I knew – I knew – Goolrick would be on my instant-read list based on that work alone.

When I am reading a book that I know I’m probably going to love, I like to read it slowly. So I read this one bit by bit over the course of four weeks. It was so hard not to tear through it in one day, but it was much too good to do that. Next time I read it, maybe I will. But I read this one slowly – page by page, piece by piece – kind of like you eat the best piece of cheesecake you’ve ever had in your entire life. When the story or the prose was so much that it made my heart swell and almost hurt with emotion or truth, I would close the book and pick it up the next day for another couple of pages. It was a painstaking process, but so worth it.

1. The Characters. These are some of the best characters I’ve ever read.  

  • Charlie Beale. Charlie has come back from war looking for some place wonderful: a quiet place to settle down. After wandering around, he finds himself in Brownsburg, Virginia, which is a little town that is established and set in its ways. New people don’t often come around, you see. Well, not until Charlie arrives, with his two suitcases. An odd man, Charlie buys a huge chunk of land by the river and sleeps there, either in his truck or on a blanket on the ground, listening to the sounds of the river as he faithfully writes in his diary. Charlies is a meat-cutter by trade – the best – and quickly befriends Will, the owner of the shop, his wife Alma, and his son, Sam. Charlie is a kind man and everyone seems to like him. He is a little different from everyone else (because war changes a man), but nobody seems to mind that much – to begin with. ~ I have never ever in my life read another character that gripped my heart like Charlie Beale. Never. Ever. 
  • Sylvan Glass. Sylvan is the young, pretty bride to Boaty Glass, the most wealthy man in town. Sylvan was born on a farm to a very poor family outside of town, but Boaty saw her working by the road one day while out driving his fancy car. He liked the way she looked, thought she’d make a good-looking wife. Boaty bought Sylvan from her family in exchange for the lease for their farm. Just like that, Sylvan became Boaty’s property, and that is how he treated her. ~ Boaty quickly tired of Sylvan, but he showered her with money, buying her things like home furnishings and expensive fabrics so she could have fancy dresses reproduced from her magazines – ones like the actresses wear out in Hollywood. She is aware that Charlie thinks she is beautiful, but she belongs to Boaty. What is she to do? She thinks Charlie handsome, even likes him a little too, but she knows that her family only gets to keep the farm as long as she stays married to Boaty. That was the deal he made with them. ~ Boaty Glass is a despicable man. Absolutely horrid, and wonderfully written so. I couldn’t help but despise him. 
  • Sam Haislett. Sam is son of the Will and Alma. Only 5 years old, Sam idolizes Charlie, and follows him everywhere. Charlies grows to love Sam very much and the two become inseparable. Charlie takes Sam on errands, talks to him about life, and becomes Sam’s very best friend. Sam loves the way Charlie will run around and actually play with him whereas Will and Alma treat him more like a nuisance that they love than a son that they want to play with. He adores Charlie. 
  • Each of the secondary characters are amazing. Amazing. I can’t stress the characterization in this book enough. 
2. The Story. Charlie slips into town, finds a job, and makes a life for himself. At first, people are a bit cautious, but as he is friendly to them while he cuts their meat, they soon warm up to them. See, everyone in town stops by the shop every single day for Charlie to cut meat for their dinner. He doesn’t say too much, but always the perfect amount. As he is unmarried and alone, some of the townsfolk even become quite protective of him.

Charlie tries to meld perfectly into the Brownsburg way of life. He begins buying up properties, including a house right in town. He begins coaching baseball. He tries to attend different area churches, although he never acquires a taste for any of them. Things are looking up for Charlie – until he makes a mistake and someone finds out.

In the middle of everything is Sam. Sam is there for all of the good things and when things go wrong. And Sam is only five, so he doesn’t understand what is happening. 

3. The Setting. Brownsburg, Virginia, 1948. Population: just over 500. The people never locked their doors because no crime had ever been committed there. The people were segregated but got along just fine and there were no problems. These were a religious people, and they believed in God and the Bible. The streets were straight, lined neatly with shops and houses, and the hills outside the town were green and beautiful.

4. The Romance. This is where this book broke me. Charlie waited every day for Sylvan Glass to walk into his store. He held his breath while he cut her meat.  He wrapped it perfectly for her. And he watched her walk away. He couldn’t understand how a man like Boaty Glass could end up with a woman like Sylvan. The more he saw her, the more he needed to see her. The more he needed to see her, the more he thought of her. Charlie fell in love with Sylvan, with another man’s wife, and this is not okay. Not in Brownsburg, Virginia – where the people believe in God and the Bible and no crimes have ever been committed. 

I’m here, he wanted to say, would have said if his throat hadn’t gone dry at the sight of her. I’m here. I’m the one. -p. 107

Sylvan. He had never had a conversation with her, had heard her child’s voice only once. Now he couldn’t think of any other thing, and every time he thought about her, it was like a punch in the gut. -p. 110

I want you. I love you. He couldn’t even say these things. They weren’t allowed. Words like that belonged to other people. Those words belonged to ordinary people who led ordinary lives. -p. 196


Robert Goolrick writes with a language that is hauntingly beautiful. Speaking from experience, it gets into your soul and stays there and lives along with his stories. And this story – it is also hauntingly beautiful in its simple complexity – there is some hard truth to this story because so often in life, we want things that aren’t ours. I found Heading Out to Wonderful so emotional and raw, and exactly what I expected from this author. His writing and his stories are pure perfection

Charlie’s story is one of seeking out happiness and finding it. It is also one of love and desire and obsession. There is betrayal and heartache and longing. There are good times and there are bad times. But this is a story that needed to be told and it is a story that can absolutely happen. 

If you are a fan of stories that are just fantastic literary stories or if you love brilliant characterization, this is a story for you. It is cheery at times, but not always. It is happy at times, but not always. You may find yourself moved by the prose, enough so that you may want to write down some passages, or mark them in your book.  Heading Out to Wonderful is one of the best books I’ve read, ever, written by one of my favorite authors, ever. 

Going crazy, marking passages. Loving the prose.
Goolrick fan for life. 

Heading Out to Wonderful will appeal to fans of

Excellent Characterization
(with Flawed Characters, LOVE them)
Beautiful Prose
Excellent, Vivid Setting
Great, Great Storytelling
Literary Fiction with Romance

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
is currently available for purchase

**I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest opinion and review. I received no compensation for my thoughts. Thank you so much Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill!! 

About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


11 responses to “My Thoughts On: Heading Out To Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

  1. I'm not going to lie, I'm a bit afraid of this book. It seems like it could be depressind emotional. But the characters and story are intriguing. I didn't read A Reliable Wife for the same reason, but I will find your review and maybe give it a try. I usually like books like this once I convince myself to read them. I think I psych myself out. Do you think that reading a book slowly helps you manage the emotional content better?

    • I knew that it would be emotional for me because I LOVE LOVE LOVE Goolrick so much. But he is an absolutely incredible writer and his ability to create characters is unbelievable. When I read A Reliable Wife, it was right after it came out and I wasn't book blogging then. I plan to re-read it and write about it at some point though because it is one of my alltime favorites.

      I DO think reading books like this slowly helps with emotional content. Kind of like we discussed about Chaos Walking and how I became so attached to those characters (where everyone else blew through those books). When I *know* that there's a chance I'll be attached, I make myself read slowly. A chapter or a few pages at the time. It lets me let it all soak in. Also, I love the way I can remember all of the details.

      Some I've read slowly: the Chaos Walking books by Patrick Ness, this one, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and I'm almost finished with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, which I've been working on since February. Yes, February. But it isn't always negative emotions. I get overwhelmed with good, happy emotions too. I just want to remember them all and savor all the parts of the really good books, so I read them slow. Make sense? Or totally crazy?

    • Oh wow. I just bought a used copy of A Reliable Wife a few months ago at a library sale and I've guarded it and this one with my life. They're just two of my favorite books ever.

      I can understand the hesitation and nerves about them, but his writing is so excellent and his characters are fantastic. If you decide to read either of them, please let me know if you like them.

  2. Oh Asheley. You've convinced me completely that I MUST have this book in my life. I love how you reviewed it, I love how the characters sound FANTASTIC and I definitely want to check this out.

  3. Oh crap…this sounds like EXACTLY my kind of book – another one to add to my TBR list!

    I still haven't read A Reliable Wife (but I have it on my shelves). Which one do you recommend reading first?

    • Kat, I think you'd like both this one and A Reliable Wife. I don't really think it matters which you read first since they stand alone, but both will leave an impression on you with Goolrick's writing and the story he creates and GAH those characters.

      This one: You may have to request it from your library since it is so new unless you are planning on buying it. In which case, I'd go ahead with A Reliable Wife. I've actually seen where tons of book clubs are starting A Reliable Wife lately, so it is still being heavily read out there. I want to read it again soon myself. So, so good. I don't know what else to do but gush about it.

  4. I love that you like to slow down and take in certain books slowly-I do the same thing! I have to tell you Asheley, this was one of those rare cases where I stopped after the first paragraph of your review, went to goodreads and added this AND A Reliable Wife before coming back and reading the rest of your review. I LOVE me some good characters!

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