BAREFOOT TO AVALON
By David Payne
294 pages. Atlantic Monthly Press. $26.
In 2000, David Payne’s 42-year-old brother, George A., died in a highway crash while helping the author move to North Carolina. The accident is the impetus for this fine memoir, not its subject. Although Mr. Payne recalls that horrific event and the terrible grief in its aftermath, he dives headlong into dissecting, with raw candor, his family’s troubled history. There were boarding schools, luxury cars and coveted Wall Street jobs, but these signifiers of the “good life” were ruined by financial failures, intractable resentments, failed marriages, infidelity, suicide, abuse and addiction, and alcoholism (including Mr. Payne’s). He also traces the harrowing effects of George A.’s bipolar disorder and the brothers’ complicated, fraught relationship. This is a brave book with beautiful sentences on every page, but there’s nothing showy about it. Mr. Payne writes with the intensity and urgency of a man trying to save his own life.
–CARMELA CIURARU, The New York Times