Set in rural Virginia in the summer of 1948, Heading Out to Wonderful is the story of Charlie Beale, a World War II veteran who arrives in little Brownsburg carrying everything he needs to start a new life: one suitcase full of money, and another containing a complete set of high-quality German butcher knives. Soon enough, Charlie decides that Brownsburg is exactly the “wonderful” place he is searching for and has talked the local butcher into giving him a job. After he is taken under the wing of Alma, the butcher’s wife, and has demonstrated his superior meat-cutting skills, the locals accept him as a welcome addition to their community.
Life is good for Charlie Beale. He is much admired by everyone for his skills in the shop and on the baseball diamond, and has formed a special bond with Sam, Alma and Will’s five-year-old son. He even owns a house and has fully furnished it, with Alma’s help, via farm and estate auctions around the county. But all is not as it seems, and that becomes obvious on the morning that the beautiful Sylvan walks into the butcher shop and eyes Charlie Beale for herself.
Sylvan is married to “Boaty” Glass, the wealthiest man anywhere around Brownsburg. The contrast between “Boaty” and his wife could not be greater. On the one hand, Boaty is a middle-aged fat man with a reputation for ruthlessness and condescending ways towards everyone else in town. On the other, Sylvan is a striking beauty still in her teens that “Boaty” treats more like a possession than a wife. All Charlie knows is that he has to have Sylvan for his own – and that he is going to make that happen no matter what it might cost him or the town.
From the moment Charlie first sees Sylvan, the reader feels increased tension in the air, a sense of the impending doom Charlie decides to ignore. Goolrick has perfectly recreated a world (that to a lesser degree probably still exists in deeply rural communities) in which everyone in town knows everything about everyone there. These people have grown up together, as did their parents, and their children are friends. Grudges and hard feelings exist, but they are kept hidden for the sake of getting along. Preachers are filled with enough righteous indignation that their congregations are willing to take their marching orders from the men even when their sympathies are elsewhere. No one is willing to rock the boat in little Brownsburg, Virginia – until Charlie Beale comes along.
Then, all bets are off.