Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton BarnhardtLookaway, Lookaway
Author: Wilton Barnhardt
Narrator: Scott Shepherd
Published 2013 by Macmillan
16 hours – Unabridged

An intimate chronicle of the trials and traumas of a fictional “fine old Southern family” in the early years of the 21st century, Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt is sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued, unflinching in its dissection of the genteel facade to expose the seething rot beneath … and yet not unsympathetic to the plight of the very human individuals caught up in the continuing farce. One by one, we meet the members of the Johnston and Jarvis clans of Charlotte, North Carolina, united when Jerene Jarvis married Joseph Beauregard “Duke” Johnston and bore him two sons and two daughters. Each family member gets a turn at telling a segment of the story from his or her point of view. First we get to know them, and then gradually the fatal flaw or unforgivable sin at the core of each one comes to light. Nobody is let off the hook for these misdeeds and shortcomings, yet nobody is wholly demonized for them either. We recognize these people. We’ve known these people. In some cases, we may BE these people. Jerene, for example, at first appears to have been cast in the time-honored steel-magnolia matriarch mold, yet there’s more to her than meets the eye, and however much you might despise her and everything she stands for, by the end of her narrative section I think that, like me, you’ll nevertheless wish her well.

What Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta have done for the dysfunctional families of the well-heeled Northeast, Barnhardt has now accomplished for their counterparts in the (formerly) moneyed South. When the narrative is funny, it is savagely so, and when it seeks instead to touch the reader’s tender feelings, it cuts to the bone with a blade so sharp that at first you might not realize you’ve taken a hit. You don’t even have time to bind up the wound before the novel’s taken another reckless turn with a new narrator, and fresh hell for the Jarvis-Johnstons and those around them. Wilton Barnhardt’s genius draws us on, limping and bleeding, but never losing our thirst to find out what happens next to these Old South types trying to stay afloat in the so-called New South.

Reader Scott Shepherd does a crackerjack job of telling this Southern story, providing authentic, age- and class-appropriate Southern accents for all the characters. It’s a pet peeve of mine, audiobook readers who try to get by with Southern accents that are either hokey and overdone, or one-size-fits-all. (It’s not all Scarlett O’Hara or trailer trash, y’all!) I just have to stop listening. If you have this problem too, rest easy: we’re in good hands with Shepherd. But it’s not just getting the accents exactly right that makes him a perfect fit for this family saga of rise and fall, hilarity and heartbreak. A certain wild, loose energy pervades Shepherd’s delivery of both narrative passages and dialogue, resulting in an across-the-dinner-table storytelling style that feels very real and immediate. Sit back and let Uncle Scott tell you this tale ole cousin Wilton told him, about what happened to the Jarvises and the Johnstons, back around the turn of the century in North Carolina. You’ll be glad you took the time.

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.

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