Greensboro New & Record: “… perceptive, beautiful and passionate…”

News & Observer: “…stylistic bravura…existential wallop…”

“…a riveting meditation upon a family’s accursed history… what gives these biographical particulars their existential wallop is Payne’s raw, sustained intensity. Reading Payne can feel like a near-physical experience, of being swept along by sinister forces that in different ages have gone by such names as original sin, melancholia, madness, and most recently, brain chemistry.”

— John Murawski, News & Observer

An Amazon Best Book of the Month

Sara Nelson, Editorial Director of

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