Finding the book
I came to Lou Berney’s November Road as a result of Don Winslow’s recommendation. Publishing veteran, Shawn Coyne (who trained me as a Story Grid editor) has worked with Don, an acclaimed writer. All that is to confirm that we can come to read books or writers we’ve never heard of through a circuitous but rewarding route. But having one great writer recommend another, is a sure-fire way to set up a reader to enjoy a genre that they both write in.
For those understanding genre, November Road is a nuanced thriller more than it is a crime story. So don’t think you’ve got a mystery where the core event is the exposure of the criminal. We know who the bad guys are in this story and, arguably, which bad guy heads the table of tyranny. The global value of November Road is Life and Death where the ‘hero’, Frank Guidry, is at the mercy of the villain more than once. Berney makes the love story sub plot work well with the thriller but only Guidry has a true understanding of the stakes at risk in the relationship.
Who’s Frank Guidry
As the story’s protagonist, Frank Guidry, starts out as a bit of a selfish prick wheedling his way into the life of Charlotte Roy and her two girls. In a way, both are on the run, although Charlotte’s choice is a deliberate ‘breakfree’ from her alcoholic husband who is more dependent on her than she is on what little he brings to the family. Frank’s on the run because after JFK’s assassination, he knows things detrimental to his survival. Charlotte and her girls are a useful cover for Frank to buy the time necessary to set up a new life and identity for himself. He has the sense to know that those after him will be looking for a guy on his own. He doesn’t expect to fall in love.
Despite that selfishness and the fact that Frank has a history of using others to get along in life, he has needs that we all identify with – the necessities of life, love and esteem. Berney writes him so well we can all root for him because we know what he wants and what he needs.
Does he change?
On the run across a changing landscape his travels serve as a symbol of his personal change. Even though his physical movement is to ensure survival, his unbidden need is to find a way to be a more human version of himself, something he never thought necessary or possible. In story terms, he begins to understand he has something to offer someone other than himself and something beyond venality. This gives us a third genre – a morality/redemption story. Ironically, it’s that quality of redemption that puts Frank on a collision course greater than those trying to kill him. A course that requires an inevitable ‘best bad choice’ and one that none of us ever want to face.
Who will like this story and why?
To simply classify November Road as historical fiction would be to sell this story short in many ways. It delivers not only a suspenseful, riveting read, but is a powerful and eloquently told story that had me thinking about themes in life that transcend the 1960s period in which it is set: survival, the price of love, self-discovery, the tough decisions in parenting and second chances. For that reason, I believe it appeals to a very broad range of readers. Coping with crime being brought to the page is a requirement for your non crime reader although it’s not overdone. Most of the time, the tension-fuled threat is greater than the reality. Even the most gratuitous act of violence in this story, while a horrific injustice, has an understandable context.
Pick up and read a copy. Amazon link here: https://www.amazon.com/November-Road-Novel-Lou-Berney/dp/0062874756
You won’t be disappointed.