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Barefoot to Avalon: A Brother's Story Hardcover – August 4, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of August 2015: Imagine Mary Karr’s best poetic prose superimposed on material reminiscent of Pat Conroy and you begin to get an idea of what you’re in for with Barefoot to Avalon, a deeply moving memoir of brotherly love and loss. Payne, a novelist, settles his story around the horrific death of his brother, George A., a death he witnessed from his rear view mirror as the two caravanned from Vermont to North Carolina. In this case, George A. – the initial is always used, in direct address as well as exposition, because it always was used in the Payne family; this is one of the many tiny details that marks the memoir as authentic and heartbreaking – had come north to help his big brother move. The norm, however, at least in the years immediately prior, was the other way around; David, while a struggling writer, usually took care of George A., whose long-undiagnosed mental illness had led him to lose friends, family, and a promising career. (But make no mistake: David was no angel and admits to envying George A. and competing with him every step of the way.) By looping back and forth in time – with more than a few chilling scenes of both brothers’ adolescent struggles with their alcoholic, violent father and denial-champion of a mother – Payne paints a portrait of dysfunction that is both sad and infuriating: George A’s death might have been an accident, but he’d been suffering so mightily for so long, it seemed predetermined. What happened to those boys as children – and how guilt- and grief-ridden David spins out of control once his brother is gone – will make every reader cringe, and many cry. – Sara Nelson
A SIBA Bestseller
Praise for BAREFOOT TO AVALON
This is a brave book with beautiful sentences on every page, but there’s nothing showy about it. Mr. Payne writes with the intensity and urgency of a man trying to save his own life.”Carmela Ciuraru, The New York Times
"Burns starkly and powerfully...a book that is, as much as anything, a study in the power of inexhaustible candor...like the best memoirs, it’s about something far harder to pin down, something unspecific and ineffable in the way time moves and lives fade, the moments that none of us can get back....Payne’s writing is loose, confident and snappy, and he has a rare ability to distill enormous scope into a single sentence, sometimes a single image...[Payne] gives us the ambiguities of real life, a story that is sometimes hard to take, but always worth it.”Lucas Mann, San Francisco Chronicle
"Piercing...a tour de force."David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
"Intense, painful, and beautifully rendered...The story is built like a labyrinth. Memories and experiences are pathways leading into and out of others, deftly moving the reader forward and back in time...That David cuts himself no slack, and boldly, unflinchingly tells his own faulty story is remarkable."Patricia Ann McNair, Washington Independent Review of Books
"A superhonest, affecting personal narrative; Payne writes about his childhood, his parents, and his career with a novelist’s sensitivity to detail."GQ.com
... [a] masterpiece of nonfiction... From the first page, Payne’s evocative, often poetic prose will put you under its spell... it will be the rare reader who does not see something of his or her own experiences in this perceptive, beautiful and passionate memoir.”Linda C. Brinson, Greensboro News & Record
... stylistic bravura... what gives these biographical particulars their existential wallop is Payne’s raw, sustained intensity. Reading Payne can feel like a near-physical experience, of being swept along by sinister forces that in different ages have gone by such names as original sin, melancholia, madness, and most recently, brain chemistry.”John Murawski, News & Observer
A memoir as raw, intimate and courageous as a series of midnight confessions fueled by a bottle of vodka... [Payne's] barefoot journey, every brave and bloody step over broken glass, shows how even the darkest emotions and deepest wounds can yield to love.”Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Payne explores his family and all its troubled relationships and history, striking universal notes that will hit you where you live... Not since William Styron’s 1951 debut novel Lie Down in Darkness” has there been a more eloquent, courageous depiction.”The Winston-Salem Journal
Powerful, gripping, raw and tender.”The News & Observer
David Payne goes to the bone in his deeply felt Barefoot to Avalon”Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
Riveting family history [asks] complex questions about social prestige, mental health, and the ties that bind...powerful.”Kirkus Reviews
"Moving...there's a novelistic intensity to the story, with Payne dwelling on vivid recollected scenes, recreating their atmospherics and teasing out every buried emotional tremor and element of foreshadowing, but his prose also has the rawness of a confessional...Writing with a mixture of clear-eyed realism and lyrical elegy, Payne shows how a family's pain, resentment, and loss get transmuted into love."Publishers Weekly
Barefoot to Avalon is simply magnificent. The book has the feeling of nothing at all reserved, a kind of go for broke passion. In this complete commitment it steps across a normal threshold between reader and book. It has because of this a powerful healing effect of a very strange, unusual kind. Reading it has been a huge experience.”Suzannah Lessard
Barefoot to Avalon is one of the most powerful and penetrating memoirs I’ve ever read; it is fiercely honest, deeply engaging, and utterly heartbreaking.”Jay McInerney
The tangled ties of adult siblings are one of the most underexplored themes in literature. In Barefoot to Avalon, David Payne transforms the story of a brother’s death into a potent and heartbreaking meditation on love and loss and the long climb out of grief.”Jenny Offil
An elegy to a brother that plumbs depths beyond depths a fever-dream of a memoir, a blazing map of familial love and loss, headlong and heartbreaking and gorgeously written.”James Kaplan
"A major achievement and a whole new standard for memoirBarefoot to Avalon is brave and brilliant, deep and true. Payne has tried to get the whole universe on the head of a pin, and done a fine job of it."Lee Smith
A brother’s tragic death is at the heart of this memoir, but David Payne transcends the troubled relationship between his brother and himself to achieve something morea compelling study of the inextricable link between the families we are born into and those that we try to create. Barefoot to Avalon is clear-eyed and unsentimental, which makes it all the more powerful and, ultimately, unforgettable.”Ron Rash
Praise for David Payne
[Payne has] the makings of a young Charles Dickensa consummate storyteller in love with language and all the variations of life, people, and improbable situations.” Business Week
[Payne] writes of a people and a place from deep in his heart. He knows the hopes, fears and habits of his characters, and weaves a powerful, lyrical story that is a joy to read.”The New York Times Book Review
Some of the strongest, most demanding writing to be found in American fiction today.”Los Angeles Times
Wildly readable.”Washington Post
A master stylist, Payne breathes life into his material, cloaking it in rich, evocative prose.”Richmond Times-Dispatch
I marvel at Payne’s virtuosity, his technical brilliance, his enormous ambition. Take a tip: his stock is bound to rise.”Dallas Morning News
[Payne] burns as brightly as any writer of his generation.”Pat Conroy
David Payne is a writer whom readers take personally, a novelist who speaks to their lives, whose books become part of their experience Payne sees and hears the human reality in every situation Payne sees his characters for who they are, accepts them, loves them, and joins their voices in a hymn of life.”Boston Globe
Payne is irresistible.”The State
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Top Customer Reviews
There were many stream of conscious passages that sweep us into the world of magical thinking, alcohol infused self deception and being locked in a way of thinking and acting that only brings more of the same. So much truth poured upon the page- even when we want to say "Oh no, don't think like that, don't go there.” We are left with the gift of the author's honesty and the courage it required to speak and write it. Payne has captured the intricacies of relationships and the ways that they can fail us and we fail them. He has walked us step by step through the anxiety, the helplessness, the guilt and the self deceptions of a family confronted with a terrifying and destructive mental illness.
Because the truth is never obscured or apologetic, there is an opportunity for healing and forgiveness for Payne and therefore his readers. He says in his moving epilogue:
"I’m sorry, George A., sorry I wasn’t a better man, a better brother to you. Nothing worked out as we hoped, and my plan to save you—which boiled down to teaching you to be another David—didn’t work out so well even for its owner, small wonder you declined it. And what I failed to grasp was that even if you wished to save yourself, perhaps you simply couldn’t. And in the last act, you came to get me home and died along the highway."
One can only think that perhaps in fact, that Payne's brother, George A, has indeed gotten him home.
Couldn't put it down....can't stop thinking about the powerful messages heard.
Self awareness is a painful story to tell, nice to read that I/we are not unique or alone.
A wonderful honest book........not "preachy"!!
I picked it up immediately after having finished All That Is, the beautifully written last novel by James Salter, who died in 2015. David Payne's writing is not like Salter's -- it is rawer and more unorthodox and jolting at times, but just as wonderful and mesmerizing. I am emotionally exhausted after having read it. How much more exhausted must Payne have been upon finishing it. He left everything on the field, as I could imagine George A. saying. He has left us all a great gift.
What does that gift consist of? It is the gift of no longer feeling alone, of not feeling like I have to beat myself up over all the sins I have committed, the acts of character I failed to perform, the way I withdrew from the world, the still so imperfect and incomplete way I have tried to reenter it. David Payne captures all of this in his book. He captures beautifully the way our minds move fluidly in real time from the present to a childhood memory to the feeling that memory evokes to another one and then back to the present and then the past again and in between the self-judgment and the judgment of others and then back again all in one beautiful sentence. And I thought "Wow, that's actually the way I experience life, and he gave me a chance to experience it in the way he painted the picture of his own life." The sense of time in the book is real, it is not linear. I remember the moment, a full year after my own brother died, when it finally hit me that I would never see him again, because I could not really grasp how time proceeded, and I still can't, really, and David Payne captured that for us and made me feel that I am not alone.
And then he so magnificently shows us how we judge, how judging separates us from each other and ourselves, how useless it is and ultimately, wasteful. So many broken hearts everywhere. But ultimately, again, a lot of the damage is reversible with inexplicable acts of love and selflessness, and David Payne shows us this too. We all judge. In the end, George A. provides the final message, and as the privileged reader, I feel that David Payne has passed his brother's message on to all of us: "It's okay, David."