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A Calling for Charlie Barnes

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Member Reviews

Interesting, fascinating, sad, humourous, moving and often mysterious. I really enjoyed this shaggy dog story of a nearly man who had just not quite made it in life. 

It gripped me from the start and was fascinating and thought provoking. 

An excellent read.
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This is a clever novel with a singular voice - I can see why it’s not for everyone but it really rewards close reading and I was very proud  of myself for some of the deductions I’d made along the way! Essentially this is a character study with a secondary plot and it’s best to go into it with that mindset or it could be a little frustrating. The structure of the novel makes the device obvious in retrospect but I really enjoyed getting there. Recommended and thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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Charlie Barnes has always meant well. He wanted his share of the American dream and was willing to work for it. But somehow nothing ever quite panned out as he hoped. All he really wanted was to be loved, and he had a good few goes at that too, but again, something always seemed to sabotage his attempts to find affection. The novel open when things have really gone downhill for the 68-year-old man as one day he gets a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Or does he….? The novel is related by Charlie’s novelist son Jake, who promises the reader that he will tell it like it is. But does he….? The book is a wonderfully tender and empathetic portrait of a deeply flawed husband, father and entrepreneur who just can’t seem to get it right. Even the diagnosis isn’t straightforward. I thoroughly enjoyed this always surprising and unpredictable tale of love, family, ageing and ambition, but it’s not at all a sad or melancholy read. In fact it’s very funny at times, even absurd, and has many laugh out loud moments. I found it a really satisfying and enjoyable novel and Charlie himself an unforgettable character.
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I absolutely loved this novel - brilliantly written, constantly surprising and funny and moving at the same time. 

'A Calling for Charlie Barnes' begins in 2008, around the time of the financial crash. Charlie Barnes is 68 and at the start of the novel we find him phoning various family members and former acquaintances to tell them he has received a diagnosis of cancer - "But hey not just any cancer. The big kahuna of cancers: pancreatic. Heard about that one? Cancer of the pancreas is the piano that falls from the sky." Charlie's news is met with a mix of reactions - some sympathetic but others hostile or indifferent, and through these conversations we learn more about how Charlie has got to this point in his life: his four previous marriages, his strained relationships with his children, his failed business ventures and his disillusionment with corporate America. 

Then there is an unexpected twist... and another... and another - until we come to understand that Ferris is constantly going to play with our expectations and subvert them. This makes 'A Calling for Charlie Barnes' quite a disorienting read but an immensely enjoyable one. Ferris deals with big themes - the American dream in the 21st century, the idea of vocation, our ability to change or improve ourselves, attachment and loss - all centred around the character of Charlie, "a fairly stand midcentury model, Updikean in his defects and indulgences, besotted by the American dream and completely unkillable, with at least a dozen second acts behind him." Charlie is a flawed figure, but Ferris nonetheless makes him deeply likeable at the same time as inviting us to question the reliability of the portrait that is being painted.

The narrative voice is a particular strength of this novel - it would ruin at least one of the novel's surprises to say too much about the narrator, but in their depiction of Charlie's faults they continually swerve between pathos and humour. For instance, in one section the narrator reflects movingly that "The child of divorce and the parent without primary custody know these interstitial places well: the curb, the corridor, the terminal parking lot. It is there where you embrace, you shed tears, you thank God for reuniting you - or curse God for tearing you asunder once more, All the while, the elevator dings, the custodian sweeps up, the traffic cop urges you to get a move on." Elsewhere, the narrator is offering hilarious descriptions of Charlie's hare-brained business schemes, such as the Original Doolander (a flying toupee) or Clown In Your TownTM, a clown franchise. Even at moments of crisis, they are capable of finding a comic analogy, such as comparing an invasive medical procedure to "coming to late at night and finding three men in ski masks standing over your bed: you don't know what you're in for, you just know you have to submit." There are wonderful sentences like this on practically every page .

In the final section of the novel, the focus shifts slightly away from Charlie and becomes more of a metafictional reflection on the truth of what we have just read. This is where Ferris starts playing with us even more than in the rest of the novel and at times I was slightly less convinced by the twists and turns here, but Ferris won me back round by the way he ties this into a wider consideration of truth, fiction and the lies we would all prefer to tell about ourselves.

Overall, this is a clever, playful and profound novel. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me an ARC to review.
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I was a little sceptical about the book at first, having not loved Ferris' earlier book, but I was totally won over. Very funny with brilliant sentences and a great story, well told.
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A story about life and death. It is about Charlie Barnes, with a pancreatic cancer scare. This is the story about the journey Charlie and members of his family take.
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A Calling for Charlie Barnes - Joshua Ferris

Another wonderful read from Joshua Ferris, a story about life, death, and family, full of laughter and panic. This book at times had me actually laughing out loud, and for the most part, I thought Charlie was hilarious getting up to all his antics.

A calling for Charlie Barnes is a story about a man who goes from having a cancer scare to being in perfect health to actually having cancer. Told by his son Jake, he writes about his father, once known as "Steady Boy" to his friends. 

Charlie has not had much luck in his life, whether that's with women, (he's on his 4th marriage) career or his children. At the start of the story, Charlie is down on his luck and struggling to just make ends meet after several unsuccessful ventures. 

Jake, telling the story of his father, helps Charlie to realize his true purpose in life, where he least expected it. With sacrifice and selflessness, Charlie manages to become the man that Jake always thought he could be. 

I loved this book.. it was so wholesome and the way the ending was written was unlike any other book I have read. 

I have already recommended this to a lot of my friends and know they will love it as much as I did. 

Thank you to Netgalley/Author/Publisher for an advanced copy of this wonderful read.
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