BAREFOOT TO AVALON by David Payne

BAREFOOT TO AVALON

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Ruminations on family and success, in the context of a fraternal tragedy.

Novelist Payne (Back to Wando Passo, 2006, etc.), a founding faculty member of the Queens University MFA Program, builds his memoir around an unbearable burden. In 2000, George A., his charismatic yet bipolar brother, died in a crash while helping the author move long-distance. In the past, they shared a charmed but dark Southern childhood, their genteel mother overwhelmed by their manipulative, alcoholic father. “My oldest competitor and ally,” writes Payne, “he was the only one who knew or ever would know what that time and place had been for me.” Although George had suffered manic episodes before, he’d always recovered sufficiently to resume a career as a broker—until 1991, when he was fired and moved in with their mother. In the face of George’s deterioration, writes the author, “my certainties and resentments seemed suddenly small and brittle.” Payne narrates his own story as a series of improbable ups and downs, from attending Exeter as his parents’ marriage disintegrated to early success followed by penury as a novelist. The author’s ambition and determination to flee—he impulsively bought land with a book advance, a decision that would haunt him as leading to George’s death—kept him from seeing how he and his brother seemed fated to repeat their father’s self-destruction. Both brothers entered optimistic marriages that produced children, then imploded. “Our father’s actions,” he writes, “were those you’d take against your enemies when you burn their houses to the ground...and in a way George’s actions are terminal like Bill’s were.” Payne’s prose is lyrical, allowing him to convey intense meaning in mundane interactions and distantly recalled family crises as well as a clear sense of a variety of settings. His dense, sprawling sentences may demand patience, but they illuminate a riveting family history and ask complex questions about social prestige, mental health, and the ties that bind.

A powerful, above-average literary memoir.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2354-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015




BEST AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF 2015:

NonfictionIT'S WHAT I DO by Lynsey Addario
by Lynsey Addario
NonfictionHUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL by Carrie Brownstein
by Carrie Brownstein
NonfictionTHE OREGON TRAIL by Rinker Buck
by Rinker Buck
NonfictionBETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

MORE BY DAVID PAYNE

FictionBACK TO WANDO PASSO by David Payne
by David Payne
FictionGRAVESEND LIGHT by David Payne
by David Payne
FictionRUIN CREEK by David Payne
by David Payne

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionNOBODY WALKS by Dennis M. Walsh
by Dennis M. Walsh
IndieRoberta's Boys by Ann Carlson
by Ann Carlson
NonfictionTHE LIARS' CLUB by Mary Karr
by Mary Karr