This past summer there was a lot of looking back 50 years at the tumultuous summer of 1968. Lou Berney’s new novel provides a look into the American landscape that led to that social turmoil.
November Road is set in 1963. In Dallas, President Kennedy has been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. In New Orleans mid-level mobster Frank Guidry gets instructions from his bosses to dispose of a Cadillac El Dorado recently driven from Dealey Plaza in Dallas to Houston. Because Guidry now knows about the Cadillac he knows too much. The bosses send a man after Guidry.
Guidry drives across Texas evading his pursuer. In New Mexico he meets Charlotte Roy and her young daughters. They are running away to California, leaving their alcoholic husband/father in Oklahoma. Their car has broken down. Casting himself as an insurance salesman, Guidry rescues the stranded family and takes them to Las Vegas. Charlotte and the girls are his cover as he seeks protection from the Vegas outfit. The boss guarantees Guidry an out—until a double-cross ends those plans.
Underlying the intricate cat-and-mouse game are depictions of multiple layers of American society just as the promise of the Kennedy years is abruptly cut short. High-flying Las Vegas in the Rat Pack years contrasts with a dusty, dead-end farm town in Oklahoma. Both the civil rights movement and the women’s movement are gathering momentum. And the gathering storm that is Vietnam looms in the background.
Berney probes deeper than con men and car chases. It’s an era that is at once far away and just yesterday.
Nann Blaine Hilyard retired in 2014 after a 39-year career administering small- and medium-sized public libraries in Texas, Kansas, Maine, North Dakota, and Illinois. She has served on many ALA and division committees, including the Executive Board and Council. She is currently president-elect of the Retired Members Round Table. She is convener of the ALA Biblioquilters, whose collaborative quilt projects have raised more than $25,000 for library school scholarships.