Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

On a day in the middle of the century, Charlie Beale appears in Brownsburg, Virginia. He drives an old pickup and has with him two suitcases: one with his belongings that includes among other things, a set of knives and one stuffed with money. He’s mysterious and quiet and we never really learn much about him, but enough to try and understand the man he becomes at the end of the novel. The town’s folk are inherently skeptical of strangers, but eventually some take him in as one of his own and he finds a job at the local butcher shop. Many continue treating him as they do all strangers, which is to keep them at arm’s length.

A prominent man in the town, Boaty, is a tub of a man bordering on repulsive, so much so that his only chance at a wife was to purchase her from a neighboring town for the price of her parent’s mortgage. He’s despicable, mean, rich and powerful. Charlie meets Boaty’s wife, Sylvan, a young woman who pretends to be a movie star rather than a bumpkin from the middle of nowhere. Charlie and Sylvan begin an affair that puts into motion a series of events that will change the people and the town, especially the life of Sam, a mere five years old when the events begin to unravel.

Sam is the narrator of the story, retelling and recapping all and everything that followed. Sam is presented as omniscient, seeming to know the inter-working of many in the town in a way that no five year old could. Although he begins with, “The thing is, all memory is fiction.” Goolrick’s novel is suspenseful and addictive; striking and poignant.

Heading Out to Wonderful is wonderfully descriptive and Brownsburg, its residents, and even a bit of Virginia come alive in ways that are not easily forgotten. The writing is rich, yet readable and speeds you through at an exciting pace. When you reach the end, you only wish you could go back and spend more time in the town and with the characters.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Algonquin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.