‘A Calling for Charlie Barnes’ by Joshua Ferris – “My Father, a Fairly Standard Mid-Century Model”


‘A Calling for Charlie Barnes’ by Joshua Ferris   (2021) – 342 pages


Real life makes for good novels because it’s lived as a bunch of lies, and because fictions of one kind or another are the only things worth living for.”

Charlie Barnes is by no means too good to be true. Five marriages, four divorces, three or four children with different mothers. He has a libido. He’s kicked around in many jobs and has had several oddball money-making schemes that never panned out. His grown-up kids are none too crazy about him, except for his foster son Jake who is writing this novel about him.

Well, Barbara, he was a clown for a time there. A lot of other things too. That’s kind of the point. He lived a full life. He has a complicated past. A man, he’s just a man.”

What makes ‘A Calling for Charlie Barnes’ so special is that Joshua Ferris is writing about Charlie Barnes like any one of us could be writing about one of our own parents. We younger people see through our parents of course, but we somehow also see what was good about them anyway. And we just might not be as good as them anyhow.

Joshua Ferris gives a flippant raucous humorous slant to the hapless events in the life of the father Charlie Barnes. I suppose when one looks back at all the random and not-so random events that occurred in a parent’s sixty or seventy or eighty or ninety years of existence, it all does seem a bit cartoonish.

This account may at first seem laughable and simplistic but ultimately there are hidden depths, which is probably true of people’s lives in general.

The novel is divided up into three parts. First is the actual comical history of Charlie Barnes which is a farce. The second is the redemption of Charlie Barnes late in life which is a fiction. Finally there are the facts, the bitter end.

There are many, many novels where the main characters are just too good to be true. ‘A Calling for Charlie Barnes’ is not one of them, and that’s quite a high bar to attain in novel writing, especially when you are writing about your parents.


Grade:   A


10 responses to this post.

  1. Ooo I like the sound of this one. Haven’t read Ferris since his debut, about office life which I rather enjoyed unlike his second, the dentist one which I didn’t.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Annabel,
      Because of all the big-name novels released recently, Powers, Doerr, Rooney, Franzen, Towles, etc., this novel did not receive the launching it should have received. I have been much impressed with Ferris’s previous work, and ‘A Calling for Charlie Barnes’ is a worthy humorous addition.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. It happens from time to time, that the Big Name authors all bring out a new book in the same year and all the others just get swamped. It must be devastating…



    • Hi Lisa,
      There seems to be a rush of big name authors at the end of September/beginning of October, which I suppose is for Christmas buying. We still look at Christmas presents as something we can wrap up so am not sure if these new streaming presents go over so well. 🙂



  3. I’ve enjoyed some of Ferris’s writing before and do like the sound of this one.

    Liked by 1 person


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