“Ryan Bartelmay achieves something like intimate sweep in this funny, soulful novel about love, time, and hope. Go toward Onward Toward What We’re Going Toward.”–Sam Lipsyte, author, The Fun Parts
“Ryan Bartelmay has written a sprawling, ambitious, great hearted novel about what comforts and kills us the most: family. A work of love and fear, secrets and cruelty, by a wonderful new writer.”–Ben Marcus, author, The Flame Alphabet
“What a kind, warm hearted and generous novel! Onward Toward What We’re Going Toward is a splendid evocation of America’s heartland and the sometimes confused, lost, desperately seeking and often comic souls that populate it.”–Dinaw Mengestu, author, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air
Set over the last half of the twentieth century, Onward Toward What We’re Going Toward is the epic story of the decline and fall of an American family.
Postwar newlyweds Chic and Diane Waldbeeser are determined to carve out a life for themselves and their son, Lomax, in Middleville, Illinois, but when ten-year old Lomax dies, Chic and Diane take refuge in haiku poetry, doll collecting and the positive thinking of the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale as they try to make sense of their overwhelming grief and guilt. Paralleling their story is that of Chic’s older brother Buddy. Haunted by the suicide of their father, Buddy struggles to make a life with his exotic wife, Lijy—who is hiding a devastating secret of her own—while attempting to introduce the residents of Middleville to vegetarianism and Ayurveda massage, unusual endeavors in mid-century Middle America. Coming headlong out of Las Vegas in the 1990s and bound for Peoria, Illinois, are Green Geneseo, a retired, widowed bank teller, and Mary Norwood, an aging pool hustler, looking for one last swing at the American Dream. The couple sideswipes the life of the now aged and widowed Chic, offering him one last chance to right a life that has been filled with sadness and tragedy.
Ryan Bartelmay graduated from the University of Iowa, where he was a member of the Undergraduate Writer’s Workshop, before going to Columbia University, where he received an MFA in fiction writing. He won the Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers hosted by Boulevard, and his work has appeared in The Greensboro Review, Sycamore Review, Opium, Phoebe: A Journal of Arts and Letters, and The Believer, among others. He is currently the Dean of General Education at Kendall College in Chicago.