2021 novel, “Paper Castles” was my first taste of the work of indie author, B.Fox and though formatted into three parts, the smooth conversational style of this debut novel had me hooked by the end of the first chapter. It is true that the book may be regarded as ‘literary fiction’, given that it does not fit neatly into an established genre, but be assured, irrespective of the notional label, this is a fine example of accomplished storytelling.
James Brooke, aged 28, graduate of Cleveland and wannabe architect has returned home to Westland, Ohio, weighed down by student debt and a glaring lack of opportunity. Moreover, James finds himself reliant on a father beset with his own struggles and in the absence of James’ late Mom, without the maternal influence that formerly kept the family together and fanned the embers of their son’s aspirations.
On one level the story is an interesting study in the communication James has with himself (and the reader), but also the collision of the possible with the pragmatic, respectively represented by son and father and the consequences of a failure to engage. More broadly, the novel calls into question the status of the ‘American dream’, the worship of money and the human casualties that get left behind, collateral damage in an unattractive, largely utilitarian system.
Using the real estate industry as a metaphor to reinforce the themes, the author also highlights the need for aesthetic vision, combined with pragmatic discipline, if huge potential is not to be simply sacrificed on the altar of crude economics.
Still, it is the wanton disregard for human capital and the disadvantages to be overcome by the socially powerless that lend real depth to this book. Karen, whom James meets in a diner, is trapped in a waitressing job that enables her to also provide elder care to her frail grandmother. But, can this unusual alliance provide the key that may liberate the young couple from their respective challenges? The author has created a fascinatingly complex relationship between the two characters and James’ observation that “it feels good to be outside of my own head for once. Hers is so much more interesting”, alludes to an important psychological connection, but can it be enough?
Certainly, Karen’s assertion that “It’s not the American dream what’s important; it’s the dreamer! A dream can’t be alive without a dreamer who believes in it.” seems to best describe the essence of this novel, However, on balance, the avoidance of a trite conclusion is also to the credit of B. Fox. Hugely satisfying read, I shall look forward to the author’s future work with great interest, but, for now, I have no hesitation in lodging “Paper Castles” on my current favourites’ shelf.