Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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NBA and Booker finalist Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) returns with a compassionate metafictional portrait of a flawed father and his crumbling notion of the America dream. Jake Barnes, the sincere but unreliable narrator, sets out to recount the life of his dad, Charlie Barnes, aka “Steady Boy,” a corporate gadfly and small business schemer who never made it through college. After multiple marriages, a few kids, and countless failed ideas for making it big—clowns and weedkiller, flying toupees—Steady Boy is working from his basement when he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jake takes it upon himself to gather his older brother Jerry and his resentful half sister Marcy, both of whom believe Steady Boy is a fraud. Ferris makes the quotidian sing, such as Jake’s description of a “thundering, brain-clearing sneeze” while Steady Boy retrieves the morning paper from the curb. Ferris also flirts with a cheesy happy ending, until it becomes likely that this, too, is a fraud, prompting readers to wonder if Ferris is toying with them via Jake, who channels his namesake from The Sun Also Rises, he of the Lost Generation who no longer believes in anything. Despite the heavy subject matter, the story is often quite funny, and the themes at its core are those that will forever preoccupy humankind: purpose and death, but, mostly, love. Of Ferris’s work, this is the big kahuna. (Sept.)


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The near death of a would-be salesman, as told by his fabulist son. "If my father was something of a joke, he was also a fucking colossus," maintains our narrator, Jake Barnes, son of Charlie Barnes, a man once known as Steady Boy. By the time Ferris' fourth novel opens in the fall of 2008, on the day Charlie receives a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the man has seen a lot of great business ideas go down in flames. The flying toupee, the herbicide, the clown franchise, the art school—not even the investment firm for retirees has panned out for this one-time employee of Bear Stearns. Though his son Jake, a successful novelist who pals around with the McEwans in the Cotswolds, claims he "promised the old man to tell it straight this time, to stick to the facts for once," the reader may have their doubts. And why? Well, among the mothers of Charlie's several children are wives named Sue Starter, Barbara LeFurst, Charley Proffit, Barbara Ledeux, and Evangeline—though Barbara Ledeux claims the first Barbara was invented only to torture her, and as the layers of myth and embellishment are peeled away in successive sections labeled Farce, Fiction, and The Facts, we have less and less reason to doubt her. And what about this Jake Barnes? After a while we notice he's told us very little about himself. "You've known you were a writer since you read Hemingway," says his dad. "It was Dostoyevsky…and I was twelve," replies the possibly misnamed Jake Barnes. Ferris' own award-winning debut, Then We Came to the End (2007), gets name-checked in the novel's final section: "Then we came to the end of another dull and lurid book." But that's Jake talking, not Joshua, and DeLillo said it first in Americana, and anyway, he's just kidding. Good old-fashioned faux metafiction about death and family, full of panic and glee. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The near death of a would-be salesman, as told by his fabulist son."If my father was something of a joke, he was also a fucking colossus," maintains our narrator, Jake Barnes, son of Charlie Barnes, a man once known as Steady Boy. By the time Ferris' fourth novel opens in the fall of 2008, on the day Charlie receives a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, the man has seen a lot of great business ideas go down in flames. The flying toupee, the herbicide, the clown franchise, the art schoolnot even the investment firm for retirees has panned out for this one-time employee of Bear Stearns. Though his son Jake, a successful novelist who pals around with the McEwans in the Cotswolds, claims he "promised the old man to tell it straight this time, to stick to the facts for once," the reader may have their doubts. And why? Well, among the mothers of Charlie's several children are wives named Sue Starter, Barbara LeFurst, Charley Proffit, Barbara Ledeux, and Evangelinethough Barbara Ledeux claims the first Barbara was invented only to torture her, and as the layers of myth and embellishment are peeled away in successive sections labeled Farce, Fiction, and The Facts, we have less and less reason to doubt her. And what about this Jake Barnes? After a while we notice he's told us very little about himself. "You've known you were a writer since you read Hemingway," says his dad. "It was Dostoyevskyand I was twelve," replies the possibly misnamed Jake Barnes. Ferris' own award-winning debut, Then We Came to the End (2007), gets name-checked in the novel's final section: "Then we came to the end of another dull and lurid book." But that's Jake talking, not Joshua, and DeLillo said it first in Americana, and anyway, he's just kidding.Good old-fashioned faux metafiction about death and family, full of panic and glee. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

When Charlie Barnes, age 68 in 2008, learns that he'll soon succumb to aggressive cancer, he takes to the telephone. He needs to let his mother, brother, and adult kids (all in varying degrees of estrangement) know, but he also uses the opportunity to settle a few scores with professional enemies. He ends up leaving a lot of messages. Then Charlie receives a call that suggests he jumped the gun on this fatal self-diagnosis. Writing the story of Charlie, aka "Steady Boy," is one of Charlie's handful of children from one of his several marriages, and it's a long time before readers find out the exact identity of our Charlie-sympathizing narrator. Ferris (The Dinner Party and Other Stories, 2017) spins a pleasantly whiplashy yarn of family legends and fatherly delusions that's at the same time a metacommentary on fiction itself: Can there be truth in it? Who does it belong to? And what's the point anyway? Both fantastical and brutally realistic, this is a funny, tender, and excitingly unexpected novel of familial fictions.

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