Barefoot to Avalon, a Brother’s Story, is David Payne’s sixth published book and memoir that is insightful, raw, and gut-wrenching. It’s the story of an unconventional childhood and a dysfunctional family whelmed by tragedy. Barefoot to Avalon focuses on the violent death of David’s brother, George A., and the years and moments leading up to the horrific accident—a familial thread of resentment and feelings not communicated. Feelings not spoken just hours before George A.’s death, which David witnessed. Their father pitted the two against one another since childhood, while their mother did nothing to mitigate. David’s brother lived with mental illness for much of his life, and because George A. was high functioning, his breakdowns were difficult for those around him to understand and he received little empathy. Yet, when David was wrestling with a declining career, alcoholism, and a marriage near its breaking point, George A. was there to help him move from Vermont to North Carolina for a chance at a fresh start with his wife and children. After a week of near silent brotherly bonding while reducing David’s life to the contents of two trucks, David and George A. set out on the highway. George A. lost his life, and David could only watch.
While I enjoyed David Payne’s novels Gravesend Light and Early from the Dance, I was utterly engrossed in his memoir from beginning to end. Barefoot to Avalon reads as though it were written from the author’s heart and with brutal honesty. At times, I found the writing style difficult to follow. There are stream-of-consciousness narratives that tripped me up, and the author shifts from one time period to another often, sometimes more than once in a paragraph. I understand why he may have written in that fashion, possibly to convey the chaos in his heart and mind, but I personally prefer a more fluid, chronological structure. It did not, however, take away from the story of his relationship with his brother, his brother’s battles, and his own battles. It is a sincere glimpse into the life of an acclaimed novelist and into the heartache and tragedy of human life. If you enjoy memoir, I highly recommend Barefoot to Avalon.
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