Lou Berney says that between the ages of 12 and 19, he was fired from approximately nine different jobs. He offers this representative sampling:
“Newspaper delivery boy [dereliction of duty], grill cook [lying about my age to get the job], apartment complex maintenance man [general incompetence], photo darkroom attendant [dereliction of duty, general incompetence, inappropriate use of darkroom].”
Since the age of 19, Berney says, he’s not been fired from any other job.
In fact, he’s done rather well for himself. He’s the Edgar-winning author of “The Long and Faraway Gone,” along with two earlier crime novels that were well received. Now, his new book, “November Road,” also seems marked for success.
Each fall, members of the sales team at HarperCollins — having had an opportunity to evaluate all the season’s forthcoming books — vote on the one they think has the best sales potential, giving it the title of “Lead Read.” This year, “November Road” was the overwhelming winner of the “Lead Read” honor.
It’s Nov. 1963, and as a shocked nation mourns the assassination of John F. Kennedy, two lost souls looking for a new chance at life find each other.
One is Frank Guidry, whose skills have made him an invaluable fixer for a New Orleans mob boss. Unwittingly, Frank plays a minor role in the mob slaying of Kennedy and quickly realizes that he’s a marked man.
His boss isn’t going to let him live to possibly tell what he knows. So he hits the road, hoping to get a head start on any pursuing hit man. He figures that if he can get to California he can find a way to leave the country and seek safety in some faraway clime.
As he drives along, he encounters Charlotte Roy and her two daughters. Charlotte has impulsively decided to leave her alcoholic husband and head for a new start in California. When Frank encounters Charlotte, she has run her car into a ditch and badly needs some help.
Frank offers to assist her, not because he’s a kind-hearted soul but because he quickly realizes that anyone chasing him is going to be looking for a single man, not some guy with a wife and two daughters in tow. It’s a perfect disguise.
But soon something happens to Frank. Despite his best efforts to remain detached, he finds himself growing to care for Charlotte and her daughters, and starts figuring if there’s some way he can take them along as he makes his escape.
“It’s an American story,” Berney said of his novel. “Two strangers meet to share the open road west — a dream, a hope — and find each other on the way. Charlotte sees that Frank is strong and kind. He discovers that she’s smart and funny. She’s determined to give herself and her kids a new life. She can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old self behind.”
“November Road” isn’t great literature, but it’s a good read — and would make a swell movie. Just as long as Hollywood doesn’t sign Tom Cruise to play mob fixer Frank.