An impressive debut takes to the Tennessee road
When Approximately Heaven opens on an ordinary Saturday morning in a small Tennessee town, protagonist Don Brush describes himself as "unemployed and not especially ambitious to improve, and really not mindful of anything in the world" other than the tomato he is about to slice. Without fight or fanfare, his wife, Mary, abruptly announces that she's leaving him she has an appointment to see a divorce lawyer on Monday. This turn of events slowly spurs Don to action, though not the logical, thought-out kind of action such life-altering words might produce in a more practical sort. His first movements are reactionary: he begins cleaning up, doing chores he has put off for weeks in the hope that this sudden spurt of "things getting done" will change her mind. Mary's mind is made up however; Don's efforts are too little too late, and she still intends to leave. Don soon decides on a novel response he will leave first. He takes off "as is," with just the clothes on his back, guided by the muddled notion that his wife will be compelled to stay if he's not there, because otherwise, who would feed the pets? What follows is a circuitous roadtrip home, doused at every turn with a liberal quantity of low-budget beer.
In this impressive debut novel, Whorton exhibits a dead-on ear for dialogue. The blue collar, work-hard-for-every-dollar Tennesseans he portrays with gentle humor are endearing even when they're behaving in politically incorrect and less-than-reasonable fashion.
Don's meandering trip eventually includes an ornery travel buddy who has a hidden agenda for retribution, (and a hidden gun); a dubious mission to deliver an un-stolen sofa; a tour of Mississippi's casinos and beaches; and a chance meeting with a free-to-do-as-she-pleases, attractive woman. It doesn't seem like a good formula for warming a wife's disillusioned heart and fostering a romantic reunion, but there is power in procrastination. As Don explains it: "Sometimes when you're at a moment of crisis, the best thing you can do is become absent."This laid-back journey can be infuriating in its lack of direction, but it's a drive worth taking. The trip offers Don the opportunity for self-analysis, and traveling with him gives readers a chance to discover what wisdom there may be in simply waiting.