November Road (Berney)

November Road 
Lou Berney, 2018
320 pp.

Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone.

Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.

A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.

Guidry knows that the first rule of running is "don’t stop," but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.

For her, it’s more than a car—it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.

It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.

Charlotte sees that he’s strong and kind; Guidry discovers that she’s smart and funny. He learns that’s she determined to give herself and her kids a new life; she can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old one behind.

Another rule—fugitives shouldn’t fall in love, especially with each other. A road isn’t just a road, it’s a trail, and Guidry’s ruthless and relentless hunters are closing in on him. But now Guidry doesn’t want to just survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time.

Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love.

And it might get them both killed. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1964-65
Where—Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
Education—Loyola University, New Orleans; University of Massachuesetts, Amherst
Awards—Edgar Award (Best Paperback)
Currently—lives in Oklahoma City

Lou Berney is the author of several novels, including November Road (2018), The Long and Faraway Gone (2015), Whiplash River (2012), and Gutshot Straight (2010), as well as a collection of short stories, The Road to Bobby Joe (1991).

His short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and the Pushcart Prize anthology, and he has written feature screenplays and created television pilots for, among others, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Focus Features, ABC, and Fox. He teaches in the Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
[T]his superior novel from Edgar winner Lou Berney melds crime fiction with a tale about people reinventing themselves, played out during a cross-country automobile trip.…An emotional story about the power of love and redemption through sacrifice with the backdrop of a crucial historical moment.
Associated Press

(Starred review) [A] moving novel.… While Berney creates nail-biting suspense …, the book’s power derives from Charlotte, who finds hidden strength as she confronts unexpected challenges. This is much more than just another conspiracy thriller.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review)  [Berney] explores relationships between two complicated and realized characters. With depth and genre crossover appeal, this literary crime thriller will please fans of Dennis Lehane or George Pelecanos and also satisfy a wider audience. —Gregg Winsor, Johnson Cty. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Library Journal

(Starred review) Berney bends his notes exquisitely, playing with the melody, building his marvelously rich characters while making us commit completely to the love story, even though we hear the melancholy refrain and see the noir cloud lurking in the sky. Pitch-perfect fiction.

(Starred review) As a shocked nation mourns the assassination of John F. Kennedy, two lost souls looking for a new chance at life find each other along the wide-open Western highways.… As the title suggests, there is an autumnal, melancholic sense of loss at the heart of the novel, yet… [it] is the kind of loss that gives way to a new world order. Perfectly captures these few weeks at the end of 1963.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for NOVEMBER ROAD ... then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe Frank Guidry at the beginning of November Road? Were you confused as to whether he was the hero or the villain of the story? How do your views of Guidry change over the course of the novel?

2. What was Guidry's relationship with Carlos Marcello? Before reading November Road, were you at all aware of the real-life Marcello—his hatred for and stated intent to kill President John F. Kennedy?

3. After the Kennedy assassination, how did Guidry's world shift? Why is Paul Barone after him?

4. Talk about Charlotte Roy. What do you think of her decision to pack up her daughters (plus dog) and leave her husband? Other than putting distance between herself and Dooley, what else does Charlotte want? What is she looking for? What are her ambitions for herself and her daughters>

5. Talk about the ways in which both Guidry and Charlotte change during the course of the novel? What attracts each of them to the other?

6. What is the symbolic meaning of the journey, the road?

7. Why is the novel titled "November Road"? Consider the month of November—not only is it the month of the JFK assassination in the novel, but it traditionally signals the end of fall and beginning of winter. Considering the national culture, how might November be seen as a sort of watershed in the national culture: an end to something and the beginning of something else?

8. How does JFK's assassination affect events and people Frank and Charlotte meet along the way?

9. If you are old enough to have lived through the JFK assassination, talk about what you recall of that weekend. If you are too young, what have you been told about it?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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