Barefoot to Avalon, by David Payne … A family with a history of mental illness and suicide that rivals, if not exceeds, the Hemingway family. The issues lurk in the shadows of two brothers struggling to find their place, their worth, their selves. The themes repeat at just the right intervals to keep the reader focused on the trial the author gives himself.
At age 17, the younger brother suffers his first breakdown, and nobody is sure what the cause might have been. A bad day? A sudden glitch in a system? Bad weed? The breakdown doesn’t occur again for a few of years, enough years to almost forget it ever happened, but then it happens again. A few years after that, it returns … and it doesn’t go away.
Payne puts himself on trial in a brutally honest attempt to discover what might have happened. He delves into his and his brother’s past, including the day he first learned he’d have a sibling … at age 3, the author put a toy gun to his mother’s stomach … to rid himself of the competition? It’s one of the themes that haunts the author and ultimately forces him to put down on paper his difficult pursuit of self-discovery.
I first learned of author David Payne after anxiously watching Book TV a few months after my first crime novel (Eddie’s World) was sold. At 44, I was a new kid to the world of publishing and Book TV was featuring Elmore Leonard. David Payne was another of the authors on the panel. He discussed how one of his novels was rejected and he was expected to return the advance. I was going through a similar situation, although my advance was miniscule by comparison. For me, it had everything to do with a desire to be published. For Payne, an orphaned book involved substantial dollars—his income.
I thought: Hey, I should read this guy.
I don’t make very many great decisions, but that sure was one. I locked onto Payne’s works and read them in total and absolute awe. He’s a writer’s writer, someone so skilled and adept at his craft, there’s no way to walk away without being inspired.
So I read them, one after another: Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street, Early from the Dance, Ruin Creek, Gravesend Light, and then Back to Wando Passo. They were all brilliant.
And then there was a break. I remember writing him directly asking if he was working on anything new, but he wrote back that he was going through some tough times. Occasionally I’d look up his amazon page, his website, etc., and there was no news about a work in progress or a new book launch. A few weeks ago, the good news appeared and I jumped on his new work as soon as I could.
Barefoot to Avalon is a masterful memoir that deals with the tragic loss of his younger brother, George A, as well as self-discovery. From his webpage: In 2000, while moving his household from Vermont to North Carolina, author David Payne watched from his rearview mirror as his younger brother, George A., driving behind him in a two-man convoy of rental trucks, lost control of his vehicle, fishtailed and flipped over in the road. David’s life hit a downward spiral. From a cocktail hour indulgence, his drinking became a full-blown addiction. His career entered a standstill. His marriage disintegrated. He found himself haunted not only by George A.’s death, but also by his brother’s manic depression, a condition that overlaid a dark family history of mental illness, alcoholism and suicide, an inherited past that now threatened David’s and his children’s futures. The only way out, he found, was to write about his brother.
Barefoot to Avalon is Payne’s earnest and unflinching account of George A. and their boyhood footrace that lasted long into their adulthood, defining their relationship and their lives. As universal as it is intimate, this is an exceptional memoir of brotherhood, of sibling rivalries and sibling love, and of the torments a family can hold silent and carry across generations. Barefoot to Avalon is a brave and beautifully wrought gift, a true story of survival in the face of adversity.
If you need reviews before plunking down some coin, they have been magnificent. Payne has been one of my favorite writers since I first read him. I don’t provide spoilers to novels or memoirs, so I won’t here. Besides, you already know what happened. It’s the journey Payne paints with beautiful and inspiring prose that will envelope any reader and inspire any writer. Reading this memoir has moved me to revisit my own, something I put away since I graduated two years ago.
I wrote a fictional memoir for my MFA thesis, so the suggested readings were many. None thus far can compare to Barefoot to Avalon. Poignant, heartbreaking, soul-searching and wondrous … Barefoot to Avalon is a masterpiece memoir by one of the best writers of our time.
All The Major Constellations ... by Pratima Cranse … she was a classmate in SNHU’s MFA program and had nailed a book contract at her graduation. Soon the hardcover will be released. I pre-ordered mine today … and I can’t wait to read it.
From KIRKUS: Easygoing Vermonter Andrew discovers the complexities of spirituality and sexuality in this heartfelt debut.
Andrew has two best friends in his life—smart, understanding Marcia and vivacious, flirtatious Sara. The girl he really wants, though, is ever unobtainable Laura, who socializes only with members of her fundamentalist church. When a tragic accident, just days before the class of 1995 graduates, leaves one friend incapacitated and the other helping with round-the-clock care, Laura (perhaps playing on Andrew’s vulnerability?) invites him to join her evangelical group. Seizing any opportunity for a chance to be near Laura, he accepts. Andrew’s surprised, however, when he feels a stirring inside (or is he just hungry and dehydrated?), when he kind of likes their touchy-feely interactions (but do guys really touch like that?), and when a seemingly virginal girl makes sexual advances (but hasn’t he always wanted Laura?). His confusing and overwhelming emotions ring true as he begins to question a wide range of religious and sexual experiences. Further complicating Andrew’s transitional summer are an alcoholic father and star-athlete brother, both prone to violent behavior, especially toward him. Moments of wry humor compliment Andrew’s subtle changes as he realizes there are no easy answers, perhaps not even one right answer. Readers will cheer him on as he makes a path to find his answers.
The great debate(s) … I didn’t watch it, but the kiddy table round apparently went to Carly Fiorina … she seems to want to go to war with everybody, especially Iran, and she isn’t afraid of sending our kids (yours or mine) off to fight another long and pointless war … the clips I saw of her showed she can be articulate, but the feeling is she’s running for VP and not the top slot. After last night top 10 performances, I’m not so sure she won’t wind up head to head vs. the Queen. Her calling Hillary Clinton a liar gave Chris Matthews conniptions, but that was fun to watch (I thought she kicked Chris’s Hillary-loving-ass) … seriously, who doesn’t think Hillary Clinton is a liar?
Sharp as she was, Fiorina forgot to mention the great Sniper Fire lies …
As it turned out, the main event was actually pretty funny … showing total and absolute loyalty to the GOP, FOX went after The Donald with extreme prejudice … not that The Donald needs any help in making a fool of himself.
How unfair were their questions to The Donald? They never asked Scott Walker why he should be trusted in the oval office after having been thrown out of college for cheating. Then again, Walker is considered one of their outside shots at regaining the White House. Had they asked any of the war hawks on the stage if they ever served in the military, and/or if not, why ... that would’ve been a bit more fair and balanced. We already know The Donald was hiding away in college during Vietnam (using that great American system that precludes the wealthy from showing their stones when it counts). Had they asked Rand Paul why two of his PAC officials were indicted the night before for bribery, that would’ve been more interesting than anything else discussed. I mean, think of it: “Mr. Paul, as a libertarian, you’re a champion of minimal government regulation. Is the indictment of your two top PAC officials any indication of the free market at work?”
Today conservatives are crazed over the anti-Trump treatment he received at the hands of FOX, but especially Megyn Kelly (who once insisted that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white) …
For all the good one-liners throughout the debate, I thought The Donald missed a great opportunity when Megyn Kelly asked: “You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
I don’t know about yous, but I was thinking: Bill Clinton.
My favorite poster on the boards today had nothing to do with the GOP … unless, of course, the former Goldwater Girl is posing as a Democrat again …
Every morning, I write an email to my wife … it has to do with the movie that was a vehicle to our falling in love. The email says:
Buon Giorno, Principessa!
I love my wife!!!!!
And hellooo nurse!!!
Today, I write: Buon Compleanno, Principessa … mi amore …