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The Barrowfields: Book summary and reviews of The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

The Barrowfields

by Phillip Lewis

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis X
The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2017
    352 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction.

Just before Henry Aster's birth, his father - outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow - reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son's reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again. 

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, The Barrowfieldsis a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

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Media Reviews

"Lewis evokes his settings beautifully, and his prose is bracingly erudite. This debut has the ability to fully immerse its readers." - Publishers Weekly

"Each of Henry's reminiscences, on its own, is interesting, but there are too many anecdotes for the narrative to pick up steam. Late-in-the-game secondary plotlines and twists only further dilute an otherwise powerful story. Promising but unfocused, this finely wrought debut novel would've benefited from more ruthless editing." - Kirkus

"A novel this good is a rare thing. Elegiac and timeless, The Barrowfields is an unforgettable evocation of a dark American saga. Reading it is like cracking open the tattered first edition of a classic you somehow missed but just pulled from your father's bookshelf." - David Gilbert, National Bestselling author of & Sons

"Majestic and rich with the textures of life, Phillip Lewis's The Barrowfields is one of the great discoveries of the year. This is a debut so assured in its sense of place and history that it will leave you in awe of what Lewis has accomplished here: a sorrowful, beautiful ode to the bond of family, the ghosts that haunt us, and the stories that shape us." - Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters

"The psychological landscape is craggy in this vivid update on Southern Gothic steeped in gorgeous vernacular and full of characters ready to walk off the page. Lewis goes down to the depths and back up in this powerfully hopeful book, and the reader is helpless in his hands." - Matthew Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

"Beautifully written and deeply moving, The Barrowfields is a novel that centers on a man conflicted between his love of family and his devotion to literature. Phillip Lewis is a very talented writer, and his debut deserves a wide and appreciative readership." - Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena and Above the Waterfall

"A beautiful, evocative novel with an amazing sense of place and an understated, dark sensibility. A brilliant debut."- Jenni Fagan, author of The Sunlight Pilgrims and The Panopticon

The information about The Barrowfields shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Charla W. (Biloxi, MS)

Wish more stars were available because it deserves 10
It is my understanding that this book is Phillip Lewis' first, and if that is true then I cannot wait for the second. I absolutely loved this book! The writing is superb , the character development spot on, and the writing is beautiful.

This is the story of Henry Aster, Sr and is told by his son Henry, Jr. Henry, Sr was born in a desolate, dreary little town deep in North Carolina called Old Buckram. The people of Old Buckram were poor and uneducated. Henry, Sr stood out like a sore thumb, because from a very early age he was smart and he was never seen without a book in his hand. Old Buckram was a place where most of the people could not read, and didn't even own a book. And, if they did own a book, it was the Bible. Henry, Sr. eventually went to college and became a lawyer, as well as a college professor. To give you a better perspective of the importance of books and education to Henry, Sr- he met his wife in the library. And the fact that she was first seen by him was in a library added to his excitement.

Henry, Sr and Eleonore moved to Old Buckram when Henry's mother became ill. Henry won a big case and earned enough money to buy an old abandoned house that sat on the side of a tall mountain. The house was surrounded by mystery. The man who had the old mansion built had a wife and three daughters, and when they moved in, people saw less and less of them. Eventually, someone went to the old house and discovered the man and his wife had been shot to death and were still in the house. At first no one knew what became of the girls, but they were found shot dead and buried in shallow graves on the property. No one ever knew what had went on in that house or if the Dad had killed everyone and then himself, or if someone else murdered them all.

It was in this house that Henry, Sr and Eleonore started their family. Shortly after they moved in, Henry, Sr's mother died and this event would have a profound affect on Henry, Sr's life. They had three children, Henry, Jr was the oldest, Threnody was next, and later came Maddy. Maddy was unexpected, because they had not planned to have any more children after Threnody.. Maddy was also a very sick and frail child.

I fear giving too much away, so I will stop retelling the story and tell you how I feel about the story. The story is very intense and the reader feels what the characters are feeling. Phillip Lewis's writing is very powerful, but at the same time it is very beautiful. It is both beautiful and haunting simultaneously. It is the story of how time, love,stuggles and disappointments can be passed from one generation to the next. Here is one excerpt that I particularly liked: "Ignoring my concern, he put his nose into his glass and drew back his lips to show his vampire canines. Then he said, " If you ever think I have enough time to do that-I'll just pass the time today and make my art tomorrow," then you have already lost. Time has fooled you into thinking it exists."

I can't wait to see what Philip Lewis does with his next book!


An Engaging Novel
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written and engaging story and I was drawn into the world Phillip Lewis creates. A stunning debut novel that explores a families' bonds and a man's devotion to literature. I had a hard time putting it down and wanted more when it ended.

Terri C. (Litchfield, NH)

The Barrowfields
I enjoyed reading this book as the plot was good and the writing was wonderful. It was an enjoyable read- a book I looked forward to picking up and sitting with to unwind, relax and enjoy. Great writing and insights into everyday life made precious. Best one sentence description is indeed "Majestic and rich with the textures of life" as stated by Paul Yoon. I found that sentence to perfectly describe my reading experience of this novel.

Annie P. (Murrells Inlet, SC)

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
This book captivated me from the first page to the very last! I was enthralled with Lewis' writing style (poetic, visionary, promising), giving me such a plethora of sights and sounds, accents and idioms, colorful words and sights, that my imagination was overloaded to the point of exhaustion. Lewis' use of "other than" words sent me repeatedly to the dictionary and Google, surprising me time after time that common words ("frowning brow") could be replaced by a magical phrase ("synclinal eyebrows") and still mean the same. I ended up with a page-long list of "I have an advanced degree in the English language" replacing my own very trite excuse for communication. The story takes the reader through a family and its discordant history, the physical and psychological aberrations, triumphs and failures. The protagonist is easy to side with and walk with in his journey.

I find it hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I read it once for review purposes; now I am going to read it again for the pure enjoyment of it. Thank you, Phillip Lewis!

Jan Z. (Jefferson, SD)

This was really quite an incredible book! I am having a hard time writing a review for it because I don't know where to start. The characters, place, relationships, voice - all were so important to the plot, and they were all handled so well.
I didn't always like what happened, or the characters, but that makes the book more realistic IMO, and when I didn't like the character or characters I could empathize with them. The main character Henry had a candor about him that drew me into his story completely, as did his honesty about his relationships with Threnody and Story.

I highly recommend this to people who like emotionally intense stories that have a lot of depth. I think that the maturity of this debut novel speaks well of Phillip Lewis and I am looking forward to more books by him.

Janice P. (South Woodstock, VT)

Like Father, Like Son, But....
Henry is named for his father, resembles his father, and takes after his father, a book lover from childhood, an eccentric, gentle man of melancholic temperament, lively imagination, and occasional sly wit. Both love storytelling, the piano, the solitude of nature.

Like his father, Henry grows up in Old Buckram, an isolated, rundown settlement of 400 in the far northwestern hills of North Carolina, where he is equally a social misfit. Like his father, Henry escapes after high school to make his awkward way into the broader world: college, law school, and love at first sight. And like his father, he will return, not entirely of his own accord.

But there is a profound difference between Henry and his father, one Henry is forced to confront, and not just for his own sake.

As he narrates his story, the reader slips into a stream of prose seemingly as transparent as a mountain brook, with ripples of humor, varied landscapes and a gentle, insistent forward movement. Phillip Lewis subtly positions the stumbling stones that gradually alert us to Henry's deeper struggle and its urgency.

"Barrow," used in so many place names, designates a mountain, a burial mound or a pile of rocky debris. In Henry's world, the Barrowfields that lie beyond his family's peculiar glass and iron mansion are a wasteland with stumps of an old forest. But this novel isn't a ghost story. It's a nocturne on the theme of loss, living, and the human spirit.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Phillip Lewis

Phillip Lewis is a lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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