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A Calling for Charlie Barnes

Review

A Calling for Charlie Barnes

In A CALLING FOR CHARLIE BARNES, Joshua Ferris attempts to put forth the idea that people are both exactly what you think they are and nothing like you think they are. As the life-changing choices his protagonist makes attempts to convince us of one or the other, Ferris follows in the footsteps of John Updike, giving readers an impression of one man’s singular life and the ripples it creates in the tides of American life itself.

"Joshua Ferris is a no-nonsense writer with a sharp, witty style that pulls you through the novel quickly and efficiently."

Charlie Barnes has a health scare on the tail of the financially destructive events of the Great Recession of 2008. When it turns out that this health scare isn’t quite what he thought it was, he takes the time to look back on the choices he has made in his life up to that point. He is 68 and still hoping to find that get-rich-quick scheme, but is saddled with the residual mess of his past failures. He recounts his story with a combined effect of gloom and doom and the sense that he considers so many others responsible for what has happened to him. Yet there is more to the story, and Charlie finds the right auto-tune to change his outlook through his own family.

However, having one purview is not enough for Ferris, so we hear from both the man himself and his son, the hard-to-contain boy who has gone off on an adventure of his own and is called back to help account for his father’s jump into the American dream. After a lifetime of toeing the line and finding most of it boring, Charlie finds inspiration in his son’s storytelling processes and realizes that his narrative is not written in stone. In fact, his life becomes a shining bright light of possibility and romantic dreams and wonder.

I think that A CALLING FOR CHARLIE BARNES would be an incredibly funny book if it didn’t come out as the world around us crumbles and struggles to reform itself into something resembling anything. In fact, like Updike’s Rabbit quartet, it solidifies one type of white man’s experience in a world that is now immersed in showing its underbelly. It is a truly American experience, our nation being so young and reckless (and, dare I say, poisoned) that the expected trajectory of the life determined by society is really just a one-way ticket to Depression City. The supposed pot of gold doesn’t anchor the end of anything, let alone a rainbow, and the payback for a lifetime of behaving yourself is the biggest letdown one can experience. Charlie Barnes is yet another totem that takes up the compelling idea that bucking the system and finding your own way of perceiving those normal slights and punishments is the true success story.

Charlie is a sympathetic character; everyone knows what it’s like to live with your mistakes. And in our ageist society, if you are past 65, your usefulness is over and done with. However, as his story refutes that notion, the book finds a literary escape hatch that readers will certainly relate to as well. It’s not so much the truth of what has happened to Charlie that draws us in as much as the promise that every story has a better perspective from which to be told.

Joshua Ferris is a no-nonsense writer with a sharp, witty style that pulls you through the novel quickly and efficiently. If A CALLING FOR CHARLIE BARNES has anything to give us during this difficult time of uproar and dissent, it is his overwhelming optimism that a life lived is still being lived and recreated well past what society considers the proper expiration date.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on October 8, 2021

A Calling for Charlie Barnes
by Joshua Ferris

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316333530
  • ISBN-13: 9780316333535