Robert Goolrick is a masterful storyteller. He tells stories the old fashioned way: long and languidly, and full of description. Love, especially a great love, never goes out of style. Goolrick delivers. He writes of a big love story in a small town. Everyone is involved, right from the first Annual Oyster Fest deep in midsummer, when Charlie shows his physical prowess and Sylvan wears her dark glasses and her red lipstick.
Sylvan Glass. And Sylvan herself—she was just as pretty as her name:
“She had a country face, young, probably not much more than twenty, if that…Her lips were a crimson slash, her hair pulled up in gleaming blonde waves on top of her head, held with tortoise-shell combs studded with rhinestones. She wore dark sunglasses, a thing no other woman in town even thought to own…She had a perfect figure, rounded, soft and fleshy for a young girl, although she seemed willowy next to her bulky husband…”We sense even right at the start that a storm is on the horizon, but I don’t think any of us are prepared for the finale. But by then he has led us long and well, and we react like his town folk, good people all. We feel helpless in the face of such a love, and wish we’d never known it.
But I have to mention my favorite character, though I doubt I would have ever gotten close to her, had I lived in Brownsburg. Claudie is like none other, with long, thin fingers “like the tines of a fork” and blessed with a special skill to sew like no one else. She created clothes for the townspeople, especially for the lovely Sylvan who wanted those dresses she saw in films and magazines and had a figure to match the finery. I nearly wept with admiration and joy to read of Claudie arriving in front of the town at the end:
Next came Claudie Wiley, dressed, fantastically, as though for a Negro Baptist wedding in New York City, brigiht in fuschia, cut from a pattern she had found in the back of Vogue magazine, and adapted to suit her figure, with a hat to match, and a veil, and shoes, all the same intense color, the color of sunset, the last burst of color before darkness falls.She was some kind of character, with a life and a mind of her own. She is worthy of a book in her own right.
(view spoiler)[I lavish praise on Goolrick for his skills, so perhaps you won’t mind if I say that the crisis, when it came, did not ring entirely true to me. The key may have been that Charlie was Sylvan’s Hollywood, and therefore may have seemed unreachable and unreal and ultimately unknowable. But I felt we were led to believe in this love, only to have it shattered in front of us for a poor excuse of a husband and his ridiculous marriage contract, none of which would sway someone under the influence of a great love. And the ending did not suit me—it seemed too dramatic for the reality. But perhaps, in the eyes of a Hollywood star, it was just the right kind of ending. (hide spoiler)]
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