Book Review: Paper Castles

Equal parts romance and loser’s manifesto, Paper Castles centers on the life of James Brooke, a down-on-his-luck 28-year-old who fails to launch despite having completed university with an architectural degree. Thanks to the Great Recession of the two thousand aughts, James is left to his own devices and despair over his joblessness, lack of direction, and unfulfilled dreams.

Dreams become a leitmotif throughout the novel as James tries desperately to cling to his vision for a better, successful life. The author strikes a masterful chord in bringing to life James’ dreams early in the novel. A touch of realistic “magic” is suggested in the early chapters as James shares his design brilliance and hopes. I was delighted at this display of creativity and ingenuity; however, as dreams lose currency throughout the novel, so, too, does the novel lose some of its initial spark.

Though I didn’t love the novel’s evolution, it’s impossible not to connect with the author’s beautiful narrative from beginning to end. One feels James’ pain – perhaps too keenly at times – and that, I’m certain, is the appeal to those to whom this book speaks. I found this to be an interesting read, though I cannot say that I left the work feeling satisfied, as was, I believe, the author’s intent. The American Dream featuring rags-to-riches bootstrapping no longer feels accessible to many, placing this generation at odds with its progenitors – another key point of tension in the novel. Indeed, the fragile and rapidly deteriorating relationship between James and his father symbolizes the disconnectedness of a generation that not only feels disenfranchised but largely unseen as well.

The masterful narration from Christopher Brown brought this piece to life for me. His maudlin, at times helpless intonation brought James and his pathos to life, even when the substance of his issues began to become a bore.

Kudos to B. Fox for crafting such an emotional – if not a bit disturbing and hopeless – debut novel. I’m certain we’ll hear much more from this emergent, talented writer.