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Opening Lines June 11, 2012

Posted by Carolyn Burns Bass in Uncategorized.
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MediaMonday for June 11, 2012: Revival of Oprah’s Book Club. Resource media from The Week.

Robert Goolrick in LitChatOpening lines. Novelists learn early how important the first line is to a story. There are competitions all over the world for the best opening line and even the worst opening line. Opening lines are like the first bite of a desired dish, that point when the appearance, aroma, texture and sapor of the food mingle upon the tongue and hunger is put to bay. On Wednesday, June 13, we’ll discuss our favorite opening lines, then on Friday,  June 15, author Robert Goolrick joins us as guest host.

There are several passages within Robert Goolrick’s new novel, Heading Out to Wonderful, that jump from the page, but the opening line is seriously memorable: “The thing is, all memory is fiction.” The paragraph that follows tosses all of the ingredients of memory into an opening in which the narrator, Sam, admits, “It’s a true story, as much as six decades of remembering and telling can allow it to be true. Time changes things, and you don’t always get everything right.” With this set-up, Goolrick takes us to a place called wonderful and back to the brutal reality of what happens when that wonderful evolves back to real life. Another memorable passage explains it like this:

“When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.”

Telling this tale from the distance of sixty years, Sam takes readers back to post-WWII Virginia, when soldiers were heroes and small town life revolved around family and baseball and church and Sunday dinners. In the bucolic town of Brownsburg, Virginia, there had never been a crime before Charlie Beale came to town carrying two suitcases. How the narrator knows that one suitcase was full of money and the other was full of butcher knives, we can only surmise. Yet this revelation sets the story in motion and carries it through a place that is wonderful for a time, but turns terrible when the wonder is sucked away.

Sam was but a young boy when Charlie came to town, a war hero handsome, strong and charismatic. Everything his older father wasn’t. Sam’s idolizing Charlie plays heavily into what happens when he’s drawn into the web that would be wonderful for Charlie and the married woman of his obsession. Goolrick, a Southerner, knows first hand the power of Southern legend, how intoxicating it becomes as it’s distilled through the years. His choice to tell the story through the backward glance of an old man is spot on.

Once an advertising executive, Robert Goolrick is the author of three books, including the critically acclaimed memoir, The End of the World As We Know It. His first novel, A Reliable Wife, was a runaway bestseller. Goolrick lives in an old farmhouse on a river in rural Virginia with his dog, Preacher.

Follow Robert Goolrick on Twitter: @whistlecreek.

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