A lawyer by profession, Phillip Lewis has spent his life and career in North Carolina, and a keen sense of familiarity is the first thing the reader notices as his debut novel, The Barrowfields, opens in the tiny Appalachian mountain town of Old Buckram.
The year is 1939 when Henry Aster is born in this inconsequential place, and he realizes it as such as soon as he teaches himself to read at a very young age. All the books in Old Buckram aren’t enough to contain Henry’s curiosity, and he awaits the day he can leave and make himself into a great writer.
Henry does leave and Henry does write, but his vow never to return home is broken when his mother takes ill. With a pregnant wife and a law degree, Henry moves back to Old Buckram and buys the hauntingly big house on the hill where the irony of his life, his law career and most importantly his unfinished book slowly start to consume him.
Growing up in the meantime is Henry’s son, also called Henry. In awe of his father and his biggest fan, Henry grows up loving all the same things—classical music, piano, books. And just like his father, he too is unable to stray far from the demons he wants to escape.
The Barrowfields is part coming-of-age story, part homecoming and part exploration of unfulfilled dreams. The setting seems both nostalgically old-fashioned and richly immediate. Lewis writes with warmth, depth and honesty about the regrets of fathers and sons and the inexorable pull of home.