It is 1948. Charlie Beale finds himself in Brownsburg, Virginia, after wandering the States trying to find a place to lay his hat (apologies for the bad 80s reference). With just two suitcases to his name, one full of dollars, one full of butchers’ knives, he gets a plot of land by the river with the former and a job with town butcher, Will Haislett, with the latter.
Charlie charms Will’s wife, Alma, and he is soon taking meals with the Haisletts and staying in their spare room. (Although his favourite place to sleep is down by the river, under the stars and utterly alone.). Their son, Sam, is equally charmed, and is soon spending all his time hanging out with Charlie and his sportingly named canine, Jackie Robinson.
In one sense, everything changes when Charlie starts an affair with the wife of the town’s richest and fattest man, Boaty Glass. A man, whose independence and strength of character I’d admired previously, becomes selfish and boringly obsessed with the oddly named Sylvan Glass. But in a sense, nothing changes, as selfishly, Sam Haislett accompanies Charlie to these extra-marital encounters, bribed with cookies and comics to stay silent. Like Sam and those cookies, I found the whole situation hard to swallow.
One character with whom I absolutely fell in love was Claudie Wiley, Brownsburg’s amazingly talented dressmaker. Claudie is a single parent to Evelyn Hope, a recluse because she is mixed race and apparently an ‘idiot’. Years ago, Claudie was offered a free place at fashion school in Boston. But she didn’t take it, and I admire her for it, her individuality and financial independence as admirable as her ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude. Later in the novel, she will refuse to lie for her client, Sylvan (but that’s another story).
I’m sure many of you will love the shades of Revolutionary Road, The Help and The Mayor of Casterbridge in the novel, but unfortunately for me, events descended all too quickly into melodrama. And I’m not giving you any spoilers, but suffice it to say, the epilogue made me want to throw the book out of the nearest window.
Any Cop?: I’m afraid I just didn’t find Heading out to Wonderful, well, wonderful.