From National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris comes a "brilliant, funny," and "heartbreaking" novel about a modern American family and a man on a secret mission to uncover the world's hidden truths—until his two lives come crashing together (Andrew Greer, author of Less). 

Someone is telling the story of the life of Charlie Barnes, and it doesn't appear to be going well. Too often divorced, discontent with life's compromises and in a house he hates, this lifelong schemer and eternal romantic would like out of his present circumstances and into the American dream. But when the twin calamities of the Great Recession and a cancer scare come along to compound his troubles, his dreams dwindle further, and an infinite past full of forking paths quickly tapers to a black dot.

Then, against all odds, something goes right for a change: Charlie is granted a second act. With help from his storyteller son, he surveys the facts of his life and finds his true calling where he least expects it—in a sacrifice that redounds with selflessness and love—at last becoming the man his son always knew he could be.

A Calling for Charlie Barnes is a profound and tender portrait of a man whose desperate need to be loved is his downfall, and a brutally funny account of how that love is ultimately earned.


What's Inside

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Reader Reviews


"Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for Charlie Barnes is wonderful: fast and deep, urgent and brilliant.  Ingeniously written, it had me up reading late into the night.   A hilarious, intimate, and scathing takedown of so many American vanities."—Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward
“Dazzling. Mind-blowing. About as much fun as you can have without risking arrest.”—Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and Chances Are…
"If Augie March was a “Columbus of the near-at-hand,” Charlie Barnes is a whole America: a dreaming, scheming paterfamilias forever “expanding out to the coasts” and outstripping whatever inconvenient facts or exuberant fictions might hope to contain him. Is he for real? Are any of us? This much is certain: Funny, moving, and formally a work of genius, A Calling for Charlie Barnes is quite literally the book Joshua Ferris was born to write."—Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire
“With meticulous, wry prose and a dash of self-effacing metafiction, Joshua Ferris delves deeply into the simultaneously extraordinary and ordinary life of Charlie Barnes, a man with as much failure in him as found in our bankrupted country. This novel, about dentures and toupees and all the ways we disguise ourselves from our intimates, is at its large heart a moving portrait of a father and son to rival the best of Roth.”—Teddy Wayne, author of Apartment
“A poignant, bitingly funny exploration of how a life that’s riddled with defeat may turn out, after all, to be profoundly meaningful. Ferris’ control of his own narrative is impeccable, but that doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t be prepared for the frequent wicked curveballs he delivers with evident zest. A Calling for Charlie Barnes has plot twists as manifold as its protagonist’s cruelly dashed dreams, but when Steady Boy’s story reaches its end, it’s a reminder of how little we know about the ones we love and the fact that even the humblest life story encompasses unfathomable depths.”—BookPage
“Funny and sweet, Ferris’s novel is narrated by Jake Barnes, the son of the title character and a successful author, who tells the story of his flawed dad’s, shall we say, colorful, life. So many failed business ideas. Many, many ex-wives. A cancer diagnosis. A second act. Love, death and family? We’re in.”
"A deeply funny, very moving book about that most pivotal and permanent of destinations: death. Ferris's hijinks are serious; his play is profound. There is magic in these pages."—Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies
“Like the best comedy, A Calling for Charlie Barnes has its fair share of angst. Death (or is it vanity?) hovers over a story of petty hustles and towering ambitions, all of it rendered with the comic ferocity that is Ferris's great gift. You could fill the back of a pickup truck with novels about sons trying to understand their father, but you'll not find another one as suave and daring as this one, warm and furious, and unfailingly funny.”—Scott Spencer, author of Endless Love
“Charlie Barnes will go down as one of the great characters in contemporary literature, a man both bigger than life and smaller than his own aspirations, a feckless optimist with a gambler's heart. Joshua Ferris's sly, funny, unexpectedly moving novel is a wholly original take on family dysfunction, a clear-eyed look at the stories we tell ourselves about the people who made us.”—Jennifer Haigh, author of Heat and Light
“Brilliant, funny, heartbreaking--Ferris has taken the Updike-Roth model and set it spinning with masterly narrative fireworks. Family, memory, ambition and death, all told with dervishing glee. Not just a daredevil of a novel, but something truly new.”—Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less
“This charming and witty novel tells a wholly inventive modern American story.”
 —Entertainment Weekly
"A magnificent novel, one that keeps re-inventing itself as it goes: a master class both in technique and in emotional acuity. Ferris is pretty much peerless as a sentence-writer, and when he takes on father-son dynamics — the love, the grief, the worship, the anger — those sentences go in like daggers. Charlie Barnes clears the very high bar of being Ferris's best book.”—Jonathan Dee, author of The Privileges
“With a Rothian sense of humor and equally slippery relationship to fiction and fact, A Calling for Charlie Barnes is a return to form for the author.”—Buzzfeed News
“It's a touching, thought-provoking story about family, duty, and the difficult ways in which we all shape our own history.”
 —Town & Country
“Ferris is one of the master chroniclers of our declining American empire and spirit—his special gift is delivering the bad news with both laughs and an enormous amount of empathy that, at his best, recalls the work of Emerson and Thoreau.”—The Millions
“A compassionate, metafictional portrait of a flawed father and his crumbling notion of the American dream… 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.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
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