Robert Goolrick, whose books explored tragedy and perseverance, dies at the age of 73

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Robert Goolrick, a New York advertising manager whose 54-year firing freed him to write a poignant memoir about childhood sexual abuse and other family secrets, followed by acclaimed novels about endurance in the face of suffering and tragedy, died on April 29 at a care center in Lynchburg, Va. He was 73.

The cause was pneumonia and coronavirus complications, said actor and producer Bob Balaban, a friend of Mr. Goolrick since the 1970s when they met in a Kool-Aid commercial.

Starting with his autobiography, “The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life” (2007), where he wrote about being raped as a 4-year-old by his alcoholic father, then with “A Reliable Wife” (2009 ) and “Heading Out to Wonderful” (2012), bestsellers and darkly sensual novels, explored Mr. Goolrick human connections that could become violent and sinister.

To a large extent, William Faulkners, William Styron, Carson McCullers and Pat Conroy, among others, followed William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic spirit, said the Virginia-born Mr. Goolrick that through his retrospective approach to storytelling he found a modest calculation, if never quite one. fuller consolation, with a past that retained a frightening power over him.

More than the loss of innocence, it was the ruthless destruction of innocence that most concerned him thematically. “Childhood is a dangerous place,” he told USA Today. “No one goes without scars.” But he added as a warning, noting his own spiral to alcoholism, cocaine addiction and self-loathing: “It’s what happens after that, later in life, that is so devastating.”

He had spent much of his adulthood masking personal anguish through what appeared to be outward performances. He became an executive at major New York advertising companies such as AC&R and Gray, where he worked on glossy corporate campaigns.

He was a dull raconteur and careful dresser from his John Lobb shoes to his Hermès tie, and he was in high demand as a guest at dinner parties. “Whether he was sitting next to a celebrity or a plumber, he was always curious about how people lived their lives,” said Lynn Grossman, a writer married to Balaban who described his friend’s far-reaching intellect. “If he talked to the plumber, he could talk to the authority about plumbing in 17th-century British castles.”

Director and screenwriter Paul Schrader recalled Mr. Goolrick as a “source of inspiration and camaraderie.” Schrader often invited his friend on film shoots and gave him an associate producer credit on “The Walker” (2007), about a young man escorting older women in society. “So many of those people give credit for the money, but with Robbie it was because he was someone you could brainstorm with. He was a go-to person for feedback and ideas.”

In an essay, after he was published author, Mr. reflected. Goolrick over navigating “the complex and often frightening interior of an exterior ordinary life. My life had been an attempt to seem right at all times, and the effort had exhausted me. My clothes were immaculate, my house charming and my dinner parties a success, but inside I felt completely dead. ”

He wrote that he increasingly put his trust in gin and cocaine, sought Manhattan for anonymous sexual encounters with men and women, and cut into hidden bodies. He once cut off his arms while watching the Broadway show “Dreamgirls,” observing in his memoirs that the seeping purple-red blood resembled “a beautiful woman’s dark, shiny lipstick.”

He was at times so loud after a night on the town, he wrote, that he could scarcely pronounce his address to taxi drivers. And he was so ignorant of his surroundings that he was assaulted five times on his own block.

An increasingly difficult colleague, Mr. Goolrick said he was “suddenly and dizzyingly fired.” He was subsequently institutionalized for several months after a nervous breakdown, but he got rid of the belief that he could become a writer, a long-term ambition. he added, “gave to the world.”

“The End of the World as We Know It,” published by the independent house Algonquin Books, was widely and positively reviewed – “barbs and cunning, with a keen eye for inflicting pain,” wrote New York Times book critic Janet Maslin. veiled for a paternal legacy of bourbon and mental illness and painted his mother as elegant, intelligent, emotionally undemonstrative, wallowing in his misfortune and prone to gloomy, alcohol-infused statements such as: “You ruin your own life and then, very gently, you ruin the lives of those around you. “

The success of Mr. Goolrick’s recollections led Algonquin to publish his first novel, which had been written earlier and which had been rejected by dozens of publishers.

“A Reliable Wife,” praised by a Guardian book reviewer for its “high drama that develops out of greed and lust,” topped the New York Times’ bestseller list, as Mr. Goolrick attributed its upper body to ripping properties and popularity among book clubs. The action, which takes place in frosty Wisconsin in 1907, was about a widower who sought a practical and homely mail order breach and instead got an ominous beauty.

“What interests me in human life is the possibility of goodness,” said Mr. Goolrick to Daily Beast. “With ‘A Reliable Wife,’ I wanted to make a novel in which troubled people are somehow redeemed by love.”

Robert Cooke Goolrick was born in Charlottesville on August 4, 1948 and grew up in Lexington, Va., Where his father taught history at the Virginia Military Institute. He graduated in 1970 with an English degree from Johns Hopkins University and first pursued an interest in filmmaking on a scholarship that funded his travels to France, England, and Greece.

Eventually, he went into advertising, a field he once said “takes people who have talent but no specific ambition,” and enjoyed a steady, if restless progress as a copywriter at large firms. He came to the moonlight as a freelance writer and once published an article about his futile attempt to find the retired novelist Thomas Pynchon.

The play ends in a vivid dream in which Pynchon sends him a letter – “written on graph paper, the sections with great distance and not indented” and ends with an existential riddle that fits his literary goal: “The world gives nothing. The world, my dear man, give all that is. “

When he became a writer, Mr. Goolrick New York to avoid the cocktail party scene and the “literary freak show” in Manhattan. From his rented 19th-century farmhouse in Weems, Va., He wrote two more well-received novels, “Heading Out to Wonderful” (2012), about an illegal romance in the small town of Virginia from 1948, and “Fall of Princes.” (2015), about a Wall Street dealer in the 1980s who falls victim to his excesses.

Mr. Goolrick, who never married, leaves a brother and a sister. He said his memories caused a schism among siblings, and he drew accusations from his parents’ friends about decorating or lying. He usually responded by quoting the first line of “A Reliable Wife”: “The thing is, all memory is fiction.”

After the publication of his memoirs, Mr. Goolrick satisfaction by offering help to the many people who sought his advice on surviving childhood traumas. He often put them in touch with support groups that could offer understanding and comfort.

“When I was young, I used to have a nightmare all the time,” said Mr. Goolrick to interviewer Skip Prichard. “And the nightmare was that there was something terribly wrong with me, something hurt. And I opened my mouth to tell my mother or who was nearby that something was wrong with me and nothing would come out. “I was dumb. When I wrote, I found a way to break that silence and find a voice.”

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