♦ Lou Berney’s ‘November Road’ Never Fails to Entertain [REVIEW]

1963 Chrysler

Two people on the run discover unexpected possibilities in Lou Berney’s November Road. (Photo by Thomas Hawk, Flickr)

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He wants sanctuary. She wants freedom. When a gangster meets a housewife in Lou Berney’s new novel, November Road, two disparate people are thrown together in a cross-country road trip in the pursuit of something more.

Lou Berney's NOVEMBER ROAD

William Morrow

Frank Guidry isn’t a good man, but he’s not the nastiest felon in New Orleans either, even if he will turn on his friends faster than a Bourbon Street urchin can pick a pocket.  Yet JFK has just been assassinated and he has the sneaking suspicion that one of his associates is about to pin the blame on him. He knows too much, even if he wasn’t part of the greater conspiracy, and it’s pretty obvious that his boss, Carlos Marcello, isn’t about to leave anyone alive that could implicate him in the crime of the century.  So what’s a guy to do in his situation? The answer is simple: vanish. And Las Vegas sounds like the perfect place to do it.

Charlotte is a young housewife tired of her situation. The mother of two precocious young daughters, Rosemary and Joan, she’s lived her entire life in the same tiny little Oklahoma town where everyone knows your business, nothing ever changes, and close-minded men squash women’s dreams for breakfast. The real millstone around her neck, however, is her husband, Dooley, a guy who swept her off her feet before she realized what a real loser he really was, especially when he hits the bottle, which is every time he gets the chance. Tired of working at a job that’s going nowhere, pinching pennies in order to feed her family, and begging for extensions on the mortgage because her husband can’t be bothered to go to work, she finally packs up the girls and the family dog and leaves, determined to change her circumstances for good.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t get far before the car breaks down. Yet that is exactly where she crosses paths with Frank. In Charlotte’s little family he sees salvation, a chance to hide in plain sight and outwit the very guys who are hunting him down. Frank makes Charlotte an offer she can’t refuse. If she will go to Vegas with him, he will help her get a car that will take her the rest of the way to California, where she knows her dreams of becoming a photographer are destined to come true. Along the way, however, Frank breaks his cardinal rule: he falls in love with Charlotte and the girls, and begins to see them as more than just a ruse, but as a new life he’ll risk everything to keep. But can they escape the clutches of the mob? And will Charlotte still want him when she finds out the truth?

November Road is my favorite kind of novel. It is crafted with a writing teacher’s attention to detail, but is as riveting, suspenseful and emotionally compelling as the dime store novels I used to consume as a kid. The characters are vividly drawn, each one of them flawed in myriads of ways, some deeply so, and yet characters like Frank and his cronies become likable at times, and even have their moments where they elicit our sympathy, and that’s how Berney keeps them from becoming caricatures of themselves.

This intricate story is woven as carefully as any spider’s web, and draws us deeper and deeper into its dangerous, evolving heart. There we happily find ourselves exploring a tumultuous period in history for both these characters and the world, one which the author punctuates with immersive sensory details but refrains from getting bogged down with them. I particularly love the soundtrack that undulates through the pages, from the plaintive wailing of a street musician performing “Round Midnight” to the Art Pepper record Frank puts on the stereo (“How Can You Lose” from the album Smack Up). These little details had me actually playing these songs while I read, and they made the story even more engaging.

Equal parts Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County, with dashes of Harold Robbins and Mario Puzo tossed in for good measure, Berney’s November Road is a genre defying literary crime novel that never fails to entertain. It is no wonder that the brilliant Lawrence Kasdan has already snatched up the film rights to the book (even if no start date has been determined for the project). This is the kind of story that begs to be turned into a motion picture because it provides the kind of meaty roles Hollywood elite will no doubt beg to perform. Whether you love nail biting suspense or unexpected love stories, this is one novel that you simply can’t afford to miss. Lou Berney has knocked this one out of the park and makes November Road one of our favorite diamond selections yet!

Lou Berney

Lou Berney
(Photo by Brandon Michael Smith)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lou Berney is the Edgar Award-winning author of three previous novels, including Gutshot StraightWhiplash River, and the multiple prize-winning The Long and Faraway Gone

He’s also written a collection of short stories, The Road to Bobby Joe, and his short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New YorkerPloughshares, and the Pushcart Prize anthology.

He’s also written screenplays for, among others, Warner Bros., Paramount, Focus Features, ABC, and FOX.

He currently lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and teaches in the MFA program at Oklahoma City University.

Readers are encouraged to visit his home on the Web at LouBerney.com, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

NOVEMBER ROAD
By Lou Berney
320 pgs. William Morrow. $26.99

TLC Book Tours Tour HostPurchase November Road at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, HarperCollins, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

November Road is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

3 Responses to ♦ Lou Berney’s ‘November Road’ Never Fails to Entertain [REVIEW]

  1. Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. Pingback: Lou Berney, author of November Road, on tour October 2018 | TLC Book Tours

  3. Techeditor says:

    I read this, too. while I really liked it, I can’t say that my impression of it quite matches you’re enthusiasm for it.

    NOVEMBER ROAD is not at all like Lou Berny’s award-winning THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE, but this is sure to be another winner for him. It is his writing style that will get you now just as then.

    My only criticism of NOVEMBER ROAD, and anyone who has been married to a drinking alcoholic will agree, is that the explanation for Charlotte’s unhappiness is inadequate. Her reason for suddenly taking off with her two children does not seem to be enough. Berney says that Charlotte’s husband frequently stays out late and comes home drunk but does not show how this has impacted his family’s lives.

    But NOVEMBER ROAD is a great story otherwise. It looks like Berney is another go-to author for me.

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