A name

July 10, 2012

Charlie Beale had his reasons, but he kept them to himself, the way he did everything else. There was a reason, though, and he knew it in his heart. A reason to build an empire, to make an impression. The reason had a name, and that name, ever since that first day in the butcher shop when she walked into his life in a white linen dress, the reason his travels almost always took him by her house, that name was Sylvan Glass.

He heard her name everywhere. He heard it in the rustle of the trees outside his bedroom window while he slept. He heard it in the ripples of the creeks on his land, in the swish of his tires on the asphalt. He felt it as a sweetness on his skin, a freshness of the air he breathed, a blessing in the sheets that wrapped around his body at night.

Heading Out to Wonderful, page 109

I read Robert Goolrick’s other book, A Reliable Wife, in 2010, and it took me quite awhile to decide how I felt about it. But clearly, it — or at least its author — made an impression; I read an excerpt from Heading Out to Wonderful in the Algonquin Sampler several months ago, and I immediately added it to my library holds queue, before it even came out. (I was first in line, and can I just tell you — there’s something magical about being the first person to check out a new book from the library.)

Some authors compose three page-long paragraphs to describe the landscape of their story, the backdrop almost personified. And there’s something exquisite and lovely to that, to have the sense that the author knew this place so intimately that he could walk you through every inch in highly specific detail. But then you have authors like Goolrick, to whom the landscape has equal importance, who so clearly inhabit the world of the book, but who choose to bring that world to vivid, luminescent life through artful, delicate impression. It’s the difference between John Smybert and Claude Monet. For me, the latter is more effective — either because it engages the reader in the creation of the book’s expression, or because I interact with the world through an intuitive lens, or perhaps both.

Like many great authors, Goolrick blurs the line between fantasy and reality. You’re never entirely certain where that line is, and that’s what makes it work so well. Don’t let the cover description of this book as “erotically charged” scare you off; this is certainly not a crude or overly explicit book, and there’s a depth to the work that transcends any one aspect of the story.

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