A Calling for Charlie Barnes

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Pub Date 28 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 28 Dec 2021

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Named a best book of the year by NPR, Vogue, and the New York Times Book Review, the hilarious and profound new novel from National Book Award finalist Joshua Ferris is “a fine American novel about family, love, and a decent but flawed man trying to be better" (Stephen King). 

Someone is telling the story of the life of Charlie Barnes, and it doesn't appear to be going well. Too often divorced, discontent with life's compromises and in a house he hates, this lifelong schemer and eternal romantic would like out of his present circumstances and into the American dream. But when the twin calamities of the Great Recession and a cancer scare come along to compound his troubles, his dreams dwindle further, and an infinite past full of forking paths quickly tapers to a black dot.

Then, against all odds, something goes right for a change: Charlie is granted a second act. With help from his storyteller son, he surveys the facts of his life and finds his true calling where he least expects it—in a sacrifice that redounds with selflessness and love—at last becoming the man his son always knew he could be.

A Calling for Charlie Barnes is a profound and tender portrait of a man whose desperate need to be loved is his downfall, and a brutally funny account of how that love is ultimately earned.

“A masterpiece that shines a revealing light on both family and fiction itself.” —Michael Schaub, NPR

Named a best book of the year by NPR, Vogue, and the New York Times Book Review, the hilarious and profound new novel from National Book Award finalist Joshua Ferris is “a fine American novel about...

Advance Praise

“Dazzling. Mind-blowing. About as much fun as you can have without risking arrest.” —Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and Chances Are…

“Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for Charlie Barnes is wonderful: fast and deep, urgent and brilliant. Ingeniously written, it had me up reading late into the night. A hilarious, intimate, and scathing takedown of so many American vanities.” —Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others

“A deeply funny, very moving book about that most pivotal and permanent of destinations: death. Ferris's hijinks are serious; his play is profound. There is magic in these pages.” —Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies 

“If Augie March was a ‘Columbus of the near-at-hand,’ Charlie Barnes is a whole America: a dreaming, scheming paterfamilias forever ‘expanding out to the coasts’ and outstripping whatever inconvenient facts or exuberant fictions might hope to contain him. Is he for real? Are any of us? This much is certain: Funny, moving, and formally a work of genius, A Calling for Charlie Barnes is quite literally the book Joshua Ferris was born to write.” —Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire

“With meticulous, wry prose and a dash of self-effacing metafiction, Joshua Ferris delves deeply into the simultaneously extraordinary and ordinary life of Charlie Barnes, a man with as much failure in him as found in our bankrupted country. This novel, about dentures and toupees and all the ways we disguise ourselves from our intimates, is at its large heart a moving portrait of a father and son to rival the best of Roth.” —Teddy Wayne, author of Apartment

“Dazzling. Mind-blowing. About as much fun as you can have without risking arrest.” —Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and Chances Are…

“Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for...

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Featured Reviews

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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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 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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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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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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