Jim Guidry was a happy mob fixer until he heard the news that JFK had been shot in Dallas. All of a sudden, that car he parked in Dallas looms large. He quickly realized he was a loose end that needed snipping and took to Route 66 in Lou Berney’s November Road. For Charlotte, Kennedy’s assassination brought it home that nothing, not even political cataclysm, was going to change her suffocating small-town life. Trapped in a marriage to a drunk, on impulse, she has her kids pack their bags and hit the road. Guidry soon realizes that someone is on his trail, so when he sees Charlotte with her car broken down, he sees a way out. The assassin is looking for a single man, not a family of four. So he offers to drive her and she accepts.
The narrative follows Jim, Charlotte, and Barone, the hitman on their trail across the country. They stop at small motels and tourist sites as Guidry keeps up the family front, recalling memories of a different life. While Charlotte and the girls were just cover, as the miles add up, Guidry begins to care about their future. Charlotte, too, is changing, growing in the certainty that she will do whatever it takes for her daughters to have an unlimited future. Barone follows with carnage in his wake.
I loved November Road. The characters are complex and unpredictable. Even Barone is more interesting than your average hitman. He’s forward thinking when he’s not killing people. As the story progresses, it’s impossible not to hope for Guidry and Charlotte. The magic is in how credible the small, but perceptible changes lead to bigger changes. It feels authentic and human. There is this love story, but one that is far more intriguing and complex than anything captured by the word romance. For both Charlotte and Guidry, falling in love with each other requires they also redeem themselves.
Berney evokes that era beautifully, capturing the shock of Kennedy’s assassination and the feeling that the world is changing under their feet. Of course, the story requires us to accept the premise that Oswald was not the assassin, but Berney’s not the first and won’t be the last to offer a conspiracist alternative to Oswald. The story is violent and people die from New Orleans to Las Vegas. Guidry’s possible ally in Las Vegas who promises him escape hosts several teens at his home in what is clear, but not discussed pedophilia. This is not a book for the squeamish.
I am not squeamish and I loved November Road from beginning to end.
I received an ARC of November Road from the publisher through Shelf Awareness. It will be published on October 9th.