Title: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Genre: Historical (80s, 90s), Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
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.
Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.
Set in a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains,The Barrowfields is a melancholy yet interesting debut by Phillip Lewis.
After tragedy strikes their family, young Henry Aster reminisces about his father, also named Henry, who managed to leave his rural roots only to return with his pregnant wife, Eleonore, when his mother’s health begins to fail. Henry Sr is a prodigious reader with dreams of writing of his own novel and works as a lawyer to support his family. After winning a lucrative case, he purchases a rather spooky house that overlooks the town where he works on his novel while drinking heavily. Following a tragic loss, young Henry eventually follows in his father’s footsteps as he leaves for college only to eventually return to his birthplace where he must finally come to terms with the events that occurred before striking out on his own.
The flashbacks from Henry Jr about his childhood offer a somewhat bleak portrait of his rather dysfunctional family. Henry Sr spends night after night writing his novel and drinking which leaves Henry Jr. taking on paternal duties with his much younger sister Threnody. Most of Henry’s reminiscences focus on his dad with only passing mention of his mom, Eleonore, who is apparently quite devoted to her husband. After Henry’s paternal grandmother passes away, Henry’s family undergoes a few changes that end in tragedy and culminate with Henry Sr.’s continued downward spiral.
The pacing of the novel picks up when Henry Jr goes to college where he also goes on to law school. He spends a lot of his time drinking and mooning over Story, the young woman who has stolen his heart. However, Story has her own drama to contend with but Henry is a willing participant in her quest to attain answers that no one is willing to give. It is not until Henry returns to face his own past that he figures out the truth she has searching for. In the process of coming to terms with his family’s history, Henry attempts to repair his long fractured relationship with Threnody.
Although a bit slow paced, The Barrowfields is an imaginative debut novel. Phillip Lewis brings the setting vibrantly to life and it is quite easy to visualize the rural town and its inhabitants. The characters are richly developed and life-like with all too human frailties and foibles. An atmospheric coming of age novel that leaves readers hopeful Henry Jr and Threnody will find a way to avoid repeating the mistakes that took their father down a somewhat dark path.