Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Barrowfields

Title:  The Barrowfields
Author:  Phillip Lewis
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0451495640 / 978-0451495648

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The desk is the same as he left it."

Favorite Quote:  "We realize, though, because we must, that remembrance is finite. It crosses only so many generations before it fades to indistinction. One man remembers his father and perhaps his grandfather and the details of the lives that were lived. But it's harder to see further back in time. I know the name of my great-grandfather, but our living time did not intersect. We did not walk the earth at the same time. Thus, to me he's a photograph; a story I heard my grandfather tell. He's not a life I remember. And my children may not know him at all, unless by chance they can find him in a book.  In time, he will be forgotten entirely, just as we all will with enough revolutions of the earth around the slowly expiring sun. Each fragile heart now beating will one day stop ... We are little more than one tree's growth of leaves in hillside forest. We will enjoy our brief moment in the sun, only to fall away with all the other to make way for the next bright young generation."

Do any of us ever escape the traumatic events of our childhood? Can any of us move beyond that trauma and go on with complete, fulfilled, happy lives? Can any of us even undo the lifetime conditioning of parental approval or disapproval? These are the questions driving the characters of this book. I would like to think so. I would certainly hope so. Life presents examples in both directions.

A mother cannot understand her son's love for books and his passion to be writer. "Book ain't everything, hone. Writing's not everything. The truth is, and you're not gonna want hear this, but you can't make a living that way. You just can't." A son spends a lifetime trying to prove that he can.

A father disappears with no warning, leaving behind his wife, his son, and his daughter. A son spends a lifetime trying to outrun that abandonment and to understand why. In some ways, he repeats his father's behavior, leaving his mother and sister far behind.

A baby is adopted. Years later, the young woman seeks out her birth mother. She searches to understand the circumstances of her birth and adoption and to know the identity of her birth father.

I love the premise of the book. Even more so, I love the way in which the author develops the setting of the Barrowfields, an old decrepit mansion outside of Old Buckram in the mountains of North Carolina. The image conjured is that of a dark and Gothic environment, not 1980s in the Appalachian Mountains. The house has its own history of murder and death, again involving parents and children. It matches the darkness that surrounds these characters.

That being said, I find myself not really caring about the characters. The young woman is named Story, a touch that seems too cutesy for the story. It distracts. Her story also seems to stand completely separate from the rest of the book. It goes with the theme but not the plot of this book.

The son Henry unfortunately does not read as a likable character. His focus throughout is his own angst to the exclusion of what his mother and his sister experience.

The father, Henry Aster, is a more intriguing character than the son Henry. After all, he is described as the "chronically bibliophilic boy" Love that description! He reads everything, collects books, and lives in his library. What's not to appreciate? Sadly, he spends his life trying to prove his worth to his family. This one aim of his life surpasses all others; success or failure of this one goal drives all other things in his life out. That's a story and character I want to know more about.

The story is told through the son's perspective so we get only glimpses of Henry's story. The big reveal at the end is neither climactic nor unexpected. It is a reveal only in that the son finally comes to terms his father's life. It would be interesting to see where Henry's (the son) life goes from this point.

Characters and setting are the focal points of this promising debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Phillip Lewis.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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