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Ode to Virginia

Enigmatic stranger returns from war

By Kurt Rabin

ROBERT GOOLRICK, one of the nation’s hottest fiction writers, has a surname that’s a familiar one to residents of our area. And yes, Goolrick, 63, author of the recently released page-turner “Heading Out to Wonderful,” is related to the Goolricks of Fredericksburg, the city where he used to summer at his grandmother’s house on Monument Avenue.

Both his father, Chester Jr., and grandfather Chester were on the editorial staff

of The Free Lance–Star, and great-uncle O’Conor Goolrick helped found the school now known as the University of Mary Washington. He’s also a cousin to the Goolricks of Goolrick’s Modern Pharmacy fame.

It’s been a spectacular second act for the longtime NYC ad executive, with his latest novel receiving well-deserved buzz and his smash début fiction, “A Reliable Wife” (2009), having been optioned to the movies.

When not touring in support of his books, the author resides in tiny White Stone (pop. 358) in the Northern Neck. We caught up with Goolrick by phone on a tour stop. “I’m sitting in a wonderful hotel in New York on a beautiful day,” he said, “and I couldn’t be more homesick for White Stone, Va.”

Not bad for a guy with a difficult past. His memoir, “End of the World” (2007), details his growing up in Lynchburg in a dysfunctional family and suffering childhood sexual abuse. Once a hard-partying ad exec who ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous and on welfare, he led a hand-to-mouth existence after Grey Advertising let him go at 53. Sober now for 21 years, he has said he led a tortured life before finding the nerve to write.

Goolrick has called his new novel, based on a true story he heard 30 years ago in the Greek isles, “a love letter to Virginia.” He transported the characters to rural Brownsburg, in the Valley of Virginia, where in 1948 Charlie Beale, an enigmatic stranger just back from the war, lands with two suitcases in tow, one containing a set of butcher knives, the other loaded with money. Beale proceeds to fall in love with the teenage bride of the richest man in town. “It’s a tale of obsessive love,” said Goolrick. “People ask me, ‘Can love make you crazy?’ I say: ‘Are you kidding? It’s the No. 1 thing.’”

Goolrick returned three years ago to the commonwealth, where he’s happy, he said, living in White Stone with only his Sussex spaniel in the 1879 farmhouse he rents with a great view of the Rappahannock. When asked if his move back to Virginia formed the basis for the story of Charlie Beale, he replied: “No similarity. But there is in guys who lead a solitary life, isolated. I was desperate to re-find home.”

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor for The Free Lance–Star.

HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL

By Robert Goolrick

(Algonquin, $24.95, 304 pp.)

 

 

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/books/2012/10/08/ode-to-virginia/

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