As a shocked nation mourns the assassination of John F. Kennedy, two lost souls looking for a new chance at life find each other along the wide-open Western highways.
In Berney’s (The Long and Faraway Gone, 2015, etc.) latest, Frank Guidry’s skills have made him an invaluable part of Carlos Marcello’s illegal New Orleans empire, but they don’t protect him when he becomes a loose end. On the run and struggling to stay one step ahead of a terrifyingly proficient hit man, Frank meets Charlotte Roy and her two daughters. Charlotte has made the impulsive decision to leave her alcoholic husband and her claustrophobic hometown and start a new life in California when she runs her car into a ditch. With a well-honed sense of self-preservation, Frank realizes that traveling as a man with a family would be the perfect cover, so he skillfully manipulates himself into the role of savior. As he and Charlotte begin to care for each other, Frank has to decide whether he can safely take her and the girls with him on his escape. Charlotte, for her part, is no delicate flower; she’ll do whatever it takes to provide opportunities for her daughters to grow up as strong, independent women. Any novel that invokes the era following the death of JFK inevitably illustrates the moment our country’s zeitgeist changed. The 1960s, of course, were rife with revolution and change, from music to relations between men and women to the start of the Vietnam War. Berney’s gentle, descriptive writing brilliantly reflects these times of both disillusionment and hope. The men in the novel, including Frank and Barone, the hit man, also symbolize the Romantic notion of a time that has come to an end. As the title suggests, there is an autumnal, melancholic sense of loss at the heart of the novel, yet still, the loss is not destructive or debilitating. It is the kind of loss that gives way to a new world order.
Perfectly captures these few weeks at the end of 1963—all that was lost and all that lay tantalizingly and inevitably just beyond the horizon.