A small town in western Virginia is as good a place as any to make a home for oneself, and so Charlie Beale arrived in Brownsburg with a truck, a suitcase of money and a set of knives. He found a piece of land along the river and bought it, cash on the barrel. He drifted off to sleep at night on the ground, listening to the water rushing and gazing at the stars overhead. People noticed, and people talked. Charlie got a job at the butcher shop, proving his skill and then winning the hearts of the townspeople. He befriended the butchery owner and his family, and befriended everyone else. It was 1948, but Charlie Beale befriended townspeople of all colors and religions. People watched, and people whispered. When she walked into the shop, she walked right into his heart; never mind that Sylvan was some 20 years younger than he, and married to the richest man in town. People knew.
Sylvan was bought and paid for by her husband and as such was a savior to her poor family left to eke out their farming existence in the hills. If she left her husband, her family would lose the farm, so she stayed. Sylvan became entranced by the movies and the fashion of the stars. She hired a local black woman to sew outfits and dresses for her; things the likes of which had never been seen in Brownsburg before. Then she discovered the kindness and obsessive love of Charlie Beale. He risked everything to be with her.
All along, young Sam, the butcher’s son, tagged along with Charlie on his outings to the slaughterhouse, and also to his visits to see Sylvan. In the terrible position of co-conspirator at the ripe age of six, Sam learned about love and hate, death and life. The story is told from his point of view. The book is fiction but is based on a true story a friend shared with author Robert Goolrick some 30 years ago, of events that he witnessed. Goolrick said of the tale, “It is a mysterious story, and it has taken me many years to begin to understand the motives of the people, why they did what they did, and what must have been the profound effect of all of these events of the course of my friend’s life.”
“Heading Out to Wonderful” is an engrossing read; it’s easy and flowing but then has elements of rushed and fevered embraces. Charlie Beale is a likeable character which adds all the more to a shocking turn of events. The setting is decidedly and perfectly Virginia with rolling hills and rock strewn mountains, rushing river waters and small town appeal. Goolrick was born and raised in Virginia, went to school in Baltimore, and moved away, but has returned to live in a small town, with his dog. His last book, “A Reliable Wife” was a #1 New York Times bestseller. “Heading Out to Wonderful” should land there as well.
“Heading Out to Wonderful,” by Robert Goolrick, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $24.95, ISBN: 978-1-56512-923-8.