Henry Aster, Senior, is a bookworm in a town where books are considered oddities and no one understands his passion for the written word. When he leaves home to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer, he has no plan to return but fate, and a sick relative, eventually draw him back to his Appalachian mountain hometown. When he moves his new family into an old abandoned mansion, he finds himself an unwilling husband and father, still intent on writing the great American novel, and unwittingly, leaving a legacy for his son, also named Henry, the only other bookworm in town. The Barrowfields is a tale of generational issues – the ones we escape and the ones that plague us forever and Philip Lewis writes a narrative that is simultaneously beautiful, haunting and witty.
The story, set in the North Carolina ridges of the Appalachian mountains, shows a remarkable young man who knows he is different and seeks to find his tribe, determined to make them up if necessary, and his attempts to reconcile the two parts of himself – the desire for love and acceptance and the desire to forge his own way. This stunning debut novel is one man’s examination of his father’s humble life and as I read, I bookmarked several spots where I laughed out loud, cried or just wanted to share the passages with everyone I knew.
What I Liked
The prose was beautiful and the story was engaging from the first paragraph:
My Father was one of only two children born in Old Buckram’s cinderblock hospital in the cold and bitter autumn of 1939. The other child, a young boy who didn’t live long enough to get a name or a soul to be saved, was buried by his mother on a hillside near town when the ground warmed enough to dig him a proper grave. There was no service and no one sang hymns.
The descriptions were so imaginative, it felt like the Appalachian characters had come to life to give their own contribution to the story.
The author writes conversation well but his skill is in the comical and witty purview he casts onto his narrative.
What I Didn’t Like
I didn’t like the cover design. I think the eye peering out from the slit was a little offputting and gave the book a little bit of a creepy vibe.
There were parts of the novel that rambled so I wasn’t sure where the story was going and the author’s choice to omit an important piece of information until the end of the book made the reveal a little anticlimactic because it changed the tone of the story.
Would I Recommend?
Yes. I gave this novel 3.5 stars because while the writing was so well done, there were a couple technical issues that weren’t fully resolved for me.
Who Should Read This Book?
In the descriptions of a young boy who wants to read everything he can get his hands on, bookworms will see themselves and enjoy this book. In the frustrations of a young man whose ambitions are discouraged by everyone he knows when they tell him no one ever made a living by writing, authors of all ilk will enjoy this book. And for everyone who has ever had a dream that no one else understood while they toiled at it, often unsuccessfully for a long time because unsupported dreams take a lot longer to come true, then we will all see ourselves within these pages and enjoy this book.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging For Books in order to complete this review. All opinions are my own.