Cover Image: A Calling for Charlie Barnes

A Calling for Charlie Barnes

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This wasn’t for me. The narrative style of the protagonist really got on my nerves - not charming, not funny,  just endless whining and self-pity.  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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Great book about Charlie Barnes, the decisions he has made and where they have led him. Enough twists and turns to keep you interested until the end.
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Charlie Barnes is 68 years old and he is sharing with his family that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the worst of all cancers. Married four times, he’s a character who is never satisfied. Between the cancer and the great recession, how does Charlie feels about his own story? But then his son, a storyteller, begins to curate the story of his father’s life and the narrative asks, in what ways can revision redeem someone? Flawed characters, unreliable narration, humor, plot twists, this was an enjoyable read from a talented writer.
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This novel has a frenetic energy which could either attract or repel a reader based on mood, expectation, and openness of mind. For me, the characters (based on the author's real life) are too much. And the narrative voice is a distraction. Where in And Then We Came to the End the first person plural enhanced the book, in this novel it doesn't gel. 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance review copy.
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Joshua Ferris takes his readers on a metafictional journey focusing on his dying father, his father's umpteen wives, his siblings, and relatives, at times injecting himself as not only the narrator, but the narrator who is telling a true story about himself and his father.  When the father is in his later 60's, he learns he has pancreatic cancer, then that he doesn't have it, then that he does, and the novel more or less continues on this same rhythm.  Our narrator is a foster son, or not a foster son, but he is an author and he does name drop his own book.  As we follow Jake, the narrator, as he tries to get his sister to believe their father is dying and insisting that she visit, and the siblings and former wives are weary of the father's fabrications and distance, Jake decides to write a novel about his father, a novel that is half-finished when the book ends, but has angered the relatives who have read the novel, accusing Jake of being a fraud like their father.

Most of the time, the novel is a lively, enjoyable read--at times quite funny, other times rather melancholy.  When we reach the final chapter titled "Facts," readers are still not certain what is true and what isn't, which is the author's intent, and by this point, what is truth doesn't really matter, since we've completed the novel and are left with what we want to believe.
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This is a powerful story about the modern American family.  After a life full of more downs than ups, Charlie Barnes seems to be entering his final chapter as he faces a serious medical diagnosis.  This prompts him to reach out to the various figures that have played critical roles in his life -- his children, his brother, his mother, his former business associates, and even his mechanic -- and reflect on those relationships and the role they played in the arc of his life.  Through these reflections, the author explores the complex nature of family relationships, what success means, and how we tell our own stories.  

I really enjoyed the author's previous books, so I was excited about this one.  And it delivered!  The book was insightful and often surprising.  Highly recommended.
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This is a terrific book.  It tells the story of Charlie Barnes and his family, made up of his current wife, several ex-wives, and his children from these various marriages.  As we learn about Charlie's life, we see that reality often fell short of his hopes and expectations, for his romantic relationships, his connections with his children, and his professional aspirations.  Just when things look the most bleak, though, it seems like Charlie may finally achieve everything he has longed wished for -- but not everyone agrees with the story Charlie is telling others or himself.

This was an intriguing story, with an impactful examination of family life and what success means.  Strongly recommend!
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A tad funny, sad, introspective, and non-traditional.  This is a book you have to be in the mood for.

Not quite sure what I was expecting here based on the premise, although this wasn't exactly it. The character of Charlie Barnes, was at times, deep, and wholly sad and sometimes laugh out loud funny.  At times it was like his character was having an identity crisis.  

While I really wanted to like this, unfortunately, it simply wasn't for me and I therefore realized that I am the wrong reader for this novel.
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A brave, deeply moving book about love and death from one of our finest writers. Joshua Ferris makes me want to be a better person; how many artists can you say that about?
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Charlie Barnes, known ironically as “Steady Boy” just turned sixty-eight years old as the novel opens in 2008 (to coincide with the economic meltdown and recession).  To make matters worse, the father of four, now on his fifth marriage, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, “the big kahuna of cancers.”   

The narrator is Jake Barnes, one of Charlie’s offspring, and a novelist.  Jake is a success, in spite of the example provided by his father, who saw the failure of one “great” business idea after another.  In writerly style, Jake tells his story about his father in sections labeled Farce, Fiction, and The Facts.

The characters in this update of “Death of a Salesman” are quirky and not always likable.  But the themes of the story are compelling, from the enticement and disappointments of the American Dream to the definition of success, the endurability (or not) of love and life, and the inevitability of death.
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A Calling for Charlie Barnes is all about the male lens on marriage, divorce, raising children, working, dreams, career and about being male in America. I won't spoil anything here by talking about clever narrative tricks but the choice of narrator is pure genius: Ferriss’s book differs from other books with similar themes in how he frames the story. 

There are evil stepmothers, angry siblings, a foster child looking from the outside in, lots of ex-wives, a dropped out, aging hippie. Basically this is the contemporary American family presented in a very twisty and clever way.

He transforms the basic story into so much more. The narrator's thoughts are so….real. Ferris talks about fiction versus real life. He covers a lot, writes good dialogue; he does all the important things well. 

Things did get slow somewhere near the middle but I'm glad I stuck with it. So worth the time.
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For some reason, during this difficult Covid year, too many books are written about death and dying. Here is another one. Though this is told through the voice of a quirky narrator l I still found the topic hard to enjoy. 

His portrait of Steady Boy, the ultimate loser schlamiel, is well done, this book just didn’t hold my interest.  

Thank you Netgalley for this read.
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I just couldn't get into this -- the narrator's voice was too quirky, too offputting. I quit before finishing.
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Joshua Ferris is a ‘one-of-kind’ author.  He’s a funny guy....
people either enjoy his humor — or they don’t.
I hadn’t read anything by him in years —
I’ve read three of his novels — [“Then We Came To The End”, “To Rise Against Again in a Decent Hour”, and “The Unnamed”], 
but it seemed like years ago— another time — another world.
So....when I saw that Joshua had this new book ( due out in stores in September), ....I thought.... “Yes, Joshua Ferris was exactly the guy whose writing I was in the mood for” ——[having recently read one too many books on death and a Holocaust history book about Polish women from WWII]...
Absolutely....who couldn’t use a little diversion from heavy-land to funny-land, after a post covid-19....lockdown, house arrest brutal global year.  

“A Calling for Charlie Barnes”, hits all the right marks: it’s funny, wicked laugh-out-loud moments, with deeper tragic truths about the human condition.  In short: Joshua Ferris is a master of authentic & absurd....insightful as hell. I can’t think of another author who writes quite like him.  
His characters are slightly annoying, cranky, crotchety, and sarcastic.

Truthfully....I think this is his best book next to “Then We Came to the End”.

This non-traditional father/storytelling son/search for the American dream/ “Progress is a myth I don’t know how to live without”.....novel ....
was a blast of brilliant enjoyment.  ....
Charlie....and his wives....(rather his ex-wife’s), his present wife, his children, friends, clients, a shitty diagnosis, and a son who just might see things a little different about his middle-aged -faithful to his landline/newspaper, father....
is the perfect book for some of us ‘other’ sixty-ish — seventy-ish—year olds! 
Besides the self-mocking, sneakily absurd— is a kind of intellectual epiphany about facing ourselves straight-on-that is actually very moving....and we feel the love.

A few teaser tasters excerpts:

     “Steady Boy?  No one had  called him that in thirty, forty years. Back then, Charlie Barnes had found it hard to keep a job, either because the pay was bad, or the boss was a dick, or the work itself was a pain in the ass, and someone, an uncle, probably, dubbed him Steady Boy and the name stuck, the way ‘Tiny’ will stick to a big fat man.  Steady Boy’s knocking off early again, Steady Boy’s calling in sick. . . that sort of thing”. 

“Steady Boy was Mr. Charles A. Barnes now—sixty-eight years old that morning, a small businessman and father of four, and likely to live forever”. 
Steady Boy had cancer. 
“But hey, not just any cancer. The big kahuna of cancers: pancreatic. 

     “His third wife was fatefully
named Charley— note, however the minor yet tantalizing variant spelling, which effeminized his ho-hum handle to which wild sensual effect that it drove him crazy just thinking about it. They were Charlie & Charley of Danville, Illinois. 
Charley was a local beauty. 
She looked just like Ali MacGraw in ‘Love Story’ although her confidence and sass were more in keeping with the sitcom star of the day, that Mary Tyler Moore.  But then Charley Proffit of Peoria, Illinois, decided to start sucking someone new, so the third time wasn’t the charm for Charlie Barnes after all. You had to marvel that he would marry a fourth time, let alone a fifth. . .but hope springeth eternal, and where hope is, change can’t be far behind. His fifth marriage was alive and well, and not simply because timewise, pancreatic cancer will always move faster than divorce proceedings. With his earlier wives, he was a work in progress: a scoundrel to some, a salvage job to others, a real slow learner all around. . .but here he was with the nurse at First Baptist, in a successful union at last. The kids didn’t care for her much, especially Marcy in a bad mood, but he couldn’t worry about that. He had this one thing going for him, and he wouldn’t fuck it up for the world”. 

Smart, ... incredibly funny, incredibly tragic, incredibly human.....and a reminder we all want to love and be loved! 

Thank You Little Brown and Company, Netgalley, and Joshua Ferris
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