Charlie Barnes, the hero of Joshua Ferris’ novel A Calling for Charlie Barnes (11.5 hours), has pancreatic cancer. Or maybe he doesn’t. He is a shyster, a con man and a liar. Or perhaps he’s a dreamer, a nobody who could be a somebody, if only the planets would align in his favor and grant him some grace. The task of discovering the true Charlie falls to his novelist son, Jake, the narrator of this hilarious and tragic story of love, failure and redemption.
Nick Offerman, best known as the laconic misanthrope Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” delivers a powerful performance as Jake. His whiskey-soaked baritone swings effortlessly from world-weary cynicism to wickedly dry observations about siblings and stepmothers. Like his namesake in The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes is a flawed and vulnerable character, but Offerman’s deft reading convinces the listener that Jake also has the strength necessary to understand and forgive the inexplicable and unforgivable.