THE BARROWFIELDS: A NOVEL, BY PHILLIP LEWIS
PUBLICATION: HOGARTH; MARCH 7, 2017
About the book:
A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction
Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.
Let me begin by saying that when I received the hardcover copy of The Barrowfields in the mail, I was immediately in love with the sturdy paper of the book jacket and the gorgeous colors. Little did I know that I was holding one of the most incredibly moving and eloquent novels I have ever read.
The Barrowfields is written from the point of view of Henry Aster, Jr. and his upbringing, feeling from, and return to the small town in North Carolina where his family was from. Henry’s Dad was the last to be born of several children, and was always different, known as the boy that always had a book in his hands. Henry grew up and left the small town to go away to college and become a lawyer, but his true passion was reading and writing. Once Henry Sr. and his wife had to return home due to his mother being ill, Henry Jr. and Threnody were born, both of whom inherited their father’s love of literature and missed out on much with their father as he spent endless hours in his office drinking and writing. And then when Henry Jr. was a teenager, his Dad was gone. He then carries on taking care of his mother and sister but soon leaves for college himself, including law school. But like his father, he is eventually pulled back home to revisit the haunted house in which he grew up.
I’m not sure what to say about this incredible novel, but I will do my best without spoiling it for others. First of all, for any lovers of classic literature and the romance of famous writers such as Faulkner, Poe or Hemingway – this is the book for you. Henry Sr. is born in a town, family and lifestyle with which he struggles to identify and although he goes away to college and meets his wife, it’s as if he fought his entire life to write something that he felt worthy to read. He drank a lot of booze and spent most of his time reading and writing, but there was still that old-world, literary romanticism about his character. The unfortunate part, however, was that he had amazing children that longed to spend time with him, love him and feel loved, but he preferred his drinking and writing or playing the piano into all hours of the night. Henry Jr. seemed as intelligent but different from his Dad while he was growing up, but started to mirror his father more and more after going away to college. An expression comes to mind about each of them, “they’re just too smart for their own good.” Their brilliance and dreamy minds were more of a curse than a blessing.
After Henry Jr. goes away to college he pulls away from his mother and sister although he promised otherwise. He does well at school, falls in love with a girl named Story and adopts a dog named Buller. As the novel continues, however, Henry Jr. seems to just be making his way through life rather than finding and embracing something that he loves. I found his relationship with his dog extremely symbolic of what he would have loved to share with his father. But even more compelling was his similarities to his father, both positive and negative. Drinking, the tendency to withdraw, working in the same law office, and so on – suggested that he was absolutely his father’s son. But I finished the novel with the hope that he would be different, in that he wouldn’t have to disappear into words and writing but instead, enjoy the moments available to him. There is a recurring theme of the time we have on this earth and I am optimistic that Henry Jr. chose to embrace that, rather than sink into a depression like his father.
Phillip Lewis has created one of the most outstanding pieces of literature I’ve read (as stated before), and even more amazing is that this is his debut novel. I have no idea if this is all the product of his creativity and imagination or if there is some of him in this novel – but I struggle with the idea of writing a novel such as this without at least some of it being autobiographic. Regardless, his writing is beautiful, heartbreaking, honest, intellectual, and completely consuming. This is the type of author that I would love to sit around with a bottle of wine and pick his brain, and try to gain at least an ounce of wisdom regarding his command of the written word. I recommend plenty of books but this is one that I insist you all must read. I recommend the hardcover rather than the Kindle version, it just seems right.
P.S. Seeing that I was born in Asheville and there are references about Blowing Rock, I did feel a little at home 🙂
*Many, many thanks to Blogging for Books for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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Learn more about Phillip Lewis by visiting his web page!