Posts Tagged ‘Joshua Ferris’

‘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


‘The Dinner Party’ by Joshua Ferris – Some Awful Guys


‘The Dinner Party’, stories by Joshua Ferris (2017) – 246 pages

What ideally happens when I read a short story collection is that when I complete a story I am looking forward to reading the next story even when I am not reading.  That is exactly what happened to me while reading ‘The Dinner Party’.

In the first story, ‘The Dinner Party’, a guy who thinks he is so witty and sharp and clever gets his severe come-uppance so that by the end of the story both the guy and the reader is left speechless.  It took me a couple times reading this first story to tune in to Ferris’s often raucous style, but after I did I ate these stories up.

These stories are modern, mostly urban, and high energy to the point they are almost manic.  It is good to see such a talented writer tackle what it means to be alive today. Ferris not only gets the speech of these modern guys and gals down, he also gets their thought patterns, their ways of approaching things.

In the final acknowledgements, Ferris has a special word to say about the men in his stories:

“Finally a special thanks to two women, my agent, Julie Barer, and my wife, Eliza Kennedy, who never make the mistake of confusing the author for his (awful, male) characters, who in turn embolden the author to make these characters more male and awful still.” 

Yes, the men in these stories are often pretty awful.  My favorite story here is probably ‘More Abandon (or Whatever Happened to Joe Pope?)’ which is about a guy who stays late at his office after everybody else has left.  He starts visiting his fellow workers’ offices to see how they are decorated.  One woman’s office is decorated in a cute pig motif, and another woman has her office decorated as a memorial to her dead daughter.  The guy gets the brilliant idea of switching the decorations in the two offices.  He realizes he will get fired the next morning, but he can’t help himself.

Besides the comedy, and there is a lot of comedy here, these stories can get poignant and emotional.   I found the following lines from the story ‘The Breeze’ about the essential differences within a married couple both insightful and moving.

“There was an essential difference between them – what he might have called her restlessness, what she might have called his complacency – which had not surfaced before they were married, or if it had, only as a hint of things to come, hidden again as soon as it peeked out.  When they argued now, as a married couple, it was often over this essential difference.” 

Frequently in a story collection an author will put their best foot forward in the first story, and then the stories get gradually or suddenly weaker.  In ‘The Dinner Party’ the stories are all first rate with no drop off whatsoever.


Grade :    A


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