BOOK STEW REVIEW: ‘A Calling For Charlie Barnes’ by Joshua Ferris

Below is the latest Book Stew Review from Eileen MacDougall, host of the long-running Book Stew, a video and podcast devoted to writing in all forms, authors, playwrights, and even a cat who survived a tornado and wrote a book about it:

A Calling For Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris

Is this fiction, biography, a combination, or none of the above? The major hint doesn’t arrive until the last section, dubbed “The Facts.”

The main character, a failed serial entrepreneur and multi-divorced husband to four women (two named Barbara), has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a sure death sentence.

Charlie wishes to just have one big success before his life ends. His current happy marriage to Barbara #2 estranges him from his four children: Jerry, Jake (the narrator who has a big secret, just like Charlie himself), Marcy, and the mysterious Karen.

But Charlie, a/k/a Steady Boy, seems to survive both surgery and his final business idea, of a pre-GoFundMe called “Chippin’ In,” brings financial success and reconciliation with his children — or does it?

With chapters labeled “Farce” and “Fiction,” it should be clear what’s what, but everyone in this entire meta novel is unreliable. The writing is probing and clever, but the plot is just disconcerting. Perhaps turn instead to the remarkable “And Then We Came to the End,” his debut novel.

Quote: “Ordinarily, in a work of fiction, one is free to move a character around at will, to swap the cat in the window for a dog as his feet, outfit him with a cardigan or blink away the cardigan while dampening the pits of the buttondown…”

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