Heading Out to Wonderful

An Interactive Guide

Sweet Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains

Hunting beagle silhouette

Vintage 1940s pickup truck

Baseball great Jackie Robinson

Three years after World War II, a handsome drifter arrives in what appears to be a peaceful southern town and decides to make it his home. A butcher by trade, Charlie wins the hearts of all of the women and most of the men and children in town, but his heart is captivated by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and a rich man's young wife. He doesn't realize that she is just an illusion made in Hollywood, her own head, and the sewing room of an African American woman across town. His closest friends, a little boy and dog, have no clue that his story and his obsession will end much like the mountain songs the town hears on the radio, with the sweet melodies belying the horrid acts beneath.

Penned by Robert Goolrick, the author of A Reliable Wife, the novel tells the story of the two outsiders Charlie and Sylvan. With every chapter, layers are peeled from the placid surface of Brownsburg, Va. to reveal the town beneath.  Their embrace of the town's black community only serves to push the two lovers further away from the core community, leaving them utterly alone at the violent climax. 

"Cash Money"

A scene from "On The Town"

A scene from "On The Town"

A Scene from "On The Town"

In the postwar economy, cash is King and Charlie uses his veteran's bonus to purchase tracts of land cheaply, eventually becoming the area's largest landholder although he gives away his rights freely. Sylvan is also very aware that cash is King, since she literally belongs to her wealthy husband, as does the fate of her entire family.

However, the price of a movie ticket allows her to buy fantasy on time. Claudie, her seamstress friend, uses cash to support her independence and to buffer her tiny family from the impact of racism. Boaty uses cash as a weapon to bludgeon his creditors, neighbors, and county officials into submission and a strained tolerance, although he realizes that every smile he is flashed was bought at a price to his own pride.

Cultural Links:

Fire up your Philco, and tune in on your radio dial:
Philco Flying Wedge radio, circa 1949

The Outsider's Lament and The Meaning of Home:
Related Reading and Viewing

The books and films listed here speak to the longing of outsiders to be welcomed home, insiders looking at their community with new eyes, and the broken souls who are caught inbetween. Ask at your neighborhood library, or visit our online catalog to see which are available in audio, video, large print or as e-books.

Big Stone Gap book cover
The Good Dream book coverWolf Whistle book coverBorn to Be Hurt book coverIf the Creek Don't Rise book cover
Big Stone Gap
by Adriana Trigiani
The Good Dream
by Donna VanLiere
Wolf Whistle
by Lewis Nordan
Born to be Hurt
by Sam Staggs
If the Creek Don't Rise
by Rita Williams

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Lick Creek by Brad Kessler
Rattlebone by Maxine Clair
October Suite by Maxine Clair
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail by T.J. Forrester
Love Cemetery by China Galland
The Double V Campaign: African-Americans in World War II by Michael L. Cooper
Death of Innocence by Mamie Till-Mobley
Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait by Rachel Robinson & Lee Daniels
Weird Virginia by Jeff Bahr, et. al.

The Best Years of Our Lives DVD cover
Imitation of Life movie poster
Pinky DVD coverSweet Home Alabama DVD cover

The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler
Imitation of Life, directed by Douglas Sirk
Pinky, directed by Elia Kazan and John Ford
Sweet Home Alabama, directed by Andy Tennant
The Murder of Emmett Till, directed by Stanley Nelson

Reading Group Guides

Virginia State Flag
Map of Virginia