Barefoot to Avalon
by: Atlantic Monthly Press
Product rating: 5.0 with 11 reviews
A defining voice for his generation
Payne is extraordinarily giftedBoston Globe
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.
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