Enter the distinctly off-kilter world of Don "Wendell" Brush, an unemployed Tennessee electrician with a penchant for throwing back a few beers before lunch. Mary, his long-suffering wife of seven years, has left him -- or is trying to. Heartsick at the thought of losing her, Don beats her out the door, reasoning that if he leaves, Mary will have to stay behind in their ramshackle house to take care of their dog and cat. On the strength of this logic, Don finds himself out on the street with only his decrepit old truck, the shirt on his back, and nothing to do but avoid home.
Approximately Heaven is a marvelously rambunctious debut, by turns melancholy and uproarious, about one hapless man's pursuit of happiness -- or at least another six-pack -- preferably both. The novel charts Don's amiably clumsy attempts to improve his situation, beginning with his decision to take a road trip with his friend Dove Ellender -- a retired, chain-drinking ex-felon with emphysema -- to Mississippi to deliver some furniture. Or maybe there's something besides furniture in the trailer behind Dove's leaky half-ton green-and-white 1969 Ford truck, but Don isn't asking and Dove's not telling.
Will Don find his heaven -- or something close to it? Will Mary give him another chance (his fourth, actually)? If heaven is a house that is square, level, and plumb -- with a loving family inside -- then for Don, even a sober hope of these things would be enough
In the course of his hero's grand misadventures, prizewinning short-story writer James Whorton traverses the broken white line between the absurd and the desperately poignant. Fans of Richard Russo will want to raise a glass -- or at least crack open a can of Natural Light.
Featuring an endearingly flawed protagonist, dead-perfect dialogue, and a mordant eye for small-town southern life, Approximately Heaven is about the paradise we long for and the approximations for which we settle. It heralds the arrival of a major -- and heaven-sent -- new literary talent.
Rambling and low-key, this debut novel takes its bumbling, chronically bewildered narrator from a life as an electrician-cum-handyman in a small Tennessee town to a series of adventures on the open road. When Don's wife of seven years threatens to leave him, he decides the only way to make her stay is to leave himself he's sure she won't abandon their dog and cat. Luckily, his friend Dove, a fellow working stiff, is about to set off for Mississippi to deliver a load of furniture to his newly married daughter, Rhonda. On their junket, Dove and Don meet an assortment of semitrustworthy women, gamble in Biloxi and drink a lot of cheap beer, ending many evenings in a drunken stupor. Various revelations are made along the way the whereabouts of a stash of $38,000; Dove's plans for a gun he has brought along but Whorton makes little effort to build ordinary suspense. As a neo-picaresque road novel, the book relies on the charms of Don's befuddled, countrified voice. The curious flatness of his narration jives well with his numbed state, but deflects the reader with its string of uninflected observations. Whorton knows his poverty-stricken settings well, bringing us into them with believable understatement, but the territory he plumbs the redneck underbelly of America, with its cheap diners, seedy motels and run-down businesses has been examined more poignantly before. Even the surprise ending, in which Don destroys the symbolic prized possession of his former life, seems canned and provides little satisfaction.