“Please. I don’t know what the hell’s happened to me. My life made sense to me before I met you. Now…it’s like I bumped into you and the girls and something inside of me tumbled off a shelf. No. It’s like all of me fell off the shelf and broke to pieces on the floor. I don’t…” Words were failing him. When in Guidry’s life had that ever happened?”
I’m not sure what it is about this passage, but I love it. November Road by Lou Berney is an amazing book. Set in the days immediately after the assassination of JKF, it’s about a mobster running from a mob boss and a woman running to a new life.
Frank Guidry works for Carlos Marcello. He realizes that he dropped off the assassin’s get-away car in Dallas. He is tasked to go to Houston to get rid of the car. Frank realizes that when he does that, Carlos will get rid of him. Frank decides to go to Vegas to get help disappearing from one of Carlos’ enemies.
Charlotte is married to an alcoholic. Though he’s not violent, he can’t hold down a job and Charlotte wants more. She works for a photographer, who keeps her from being a photographer because he doesn’t want to lose her work in the dark room. She has two daughters – Joan and Rosemary – and she wants more for them. After a family dinner, she takes the $300 her in-laws have given her and she packs suitcases for her and the girls and they leave. Her destination is her aunt in Los Angeles.
In the meantime, a hit man is chasing Frank. He knows this and is trying to think of a way to be inconspicuous. He sees Charlotte and the girls on the side of the road….
That’s enough plot. You will have to read the book for the rest. I was so excited to read this book. I am a nut about the Kennedy assassination (though, it’s really only a tangential matter here) and I love mobster stories. But this book is really much more than that. Lou Berney has a gift that is so rare – he shows instead of telling. He has an eye for detail and mind for brevity. He writes more in one sentence than some people do in entire books. That’s not to say that his writing is simple, short, or uncomplicated. It’s just perfect.
Every character – from Frank to Charlotte to Barone (the hit man) to the paint-by-numbers, small-town sheriff have a purpose and are richly drawn. I can see the jail cell Frank is in. I can see the Hacienda resort in Las Vegas with the miniature golf course and go cart track. I can see the places so clearly in my mind because Lou Berney writes them so clearly on the page.
Aside from the near perfect writing, the story is amazing. It’s a thriller and a kind of love story. There are plot twists, but they aren’t manufactured or trite or used to manipulate the reader. They are the kind that make you think, “I didn’t see it coming, necessarily, but wow does that make the book even better.” The thing I loved most about the story is that it is so human. The characters are flawed and do not do what you think they should. And even though it might not end the way you expect or want, you can sit back and say, “I’m satisfied.”
I liked Frank. He kind of reminded me of Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls. A kind of happy-go-lucky gangster, who has seen everything and has wisdom to spare – until he meets the woman who knocks him off his feet. Like Sister Sarah was for Sky in Guys and Dolls, Charlotte is that woman for Frank. She’s from a small Oklahoma town, about as far away from the mob as you can get. But she sticks on Frank’s soul. Just like Sarah did to Sky. And that is part of what makes this story and this book so endearing to me.
Do yourself a favor and read this book. I am so incredibly thankful to have won it because it is, by far, the very best book I have read this year – and in a very long time.
I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone. Any use of quoted material from the text is used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.