"Propulsive, brilliantly funny, and both generous and precise in its descriptions of rough-around-the-edges correctional officers employed at a for-profit prison." - The Millions
“Moloney's taut, haunting, and surprisingly hopeful debut takes an unblinking look at America's criminal justice system. . . . An indelible look at how people respond to extremes and fight to hold on to their humanity in dire conditions.” Publishers Weekly
“Moloney sugarcoats nothing in this novel. Instead he pulls back the veil on this dark underbelly of society in stark and brutal prose. . . . Its importance as a portrait of our corrections system is undeniable.” BookPage
"A powerful new novel of prison wardens, power struggles, and crushing compromises." - CrimeReads
“Taut, gritty literature.” Library Journal, "Books to Anticipate"
“This is a book about people that many in society may not notice, but they are here; this is a book we need.” Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of OLIVE KITTERIDGE and OLIVE, AGAIN
“In over thirty years of writing and teaching, I have not witnessed a stronger artistic debut than David Moloney's; in fact, Barker House does not remotely read like a debut but more as the seasoned work of a writer with enormous gifts. . . This book heralds the arrival of a new and important voice among us.” Andre Dubus III, author of HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG
“At a time when mass incarceration is increasingly a feature of American life, David Moloney's Barker House is a great and important book. Without romanticizing, demonizing, or candy-coating the work of his corrections officers, this novel-in-stories offers an experienced insider's view of their lives, in stainless-steely prose that easily matches the best of Raymond Carver and John Fante.” Tony Tulathimutte, Whiting Award-winning author of PRIVATE CITIZENS
“The men and women whose interwoven stories comprise this unforgettable debut aren't the prisoners, they're the guards, and yet their lives are hardly less violent, precarious, and desperate than the lives of the people under their authority. David Moloney's vision is brutal but honest, and punctuated by moments of improbable grace.” Justin Taylor, author of FLINGS
“David Moloney's Barker House aims its razor-sharp gaze at the machinery of mass incarcerationand the men and women at its controls. Moloney's frank and humanizing depiction is lush with regret, longing, cruelty, and hope, resulting in a novel as unflinching as it is unforgettable. A brutal and beautiful portrait of lives shapedand warpedby a toxic system” Robin Wasserman, author of GIRLS ON FIRE
“These are stories that contemporary America needs to see, from a writer we need to listen to. David Moloney is the best kind of writer, both powerful and graceful, and Barker House is an unforgettable book. ” Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of THE LAST BALLAD and A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME
“How fortunate we are that a brilliant and honest storyteller was embedded in the American prison system as a corrections officer for years. Moloney went to the underworld and came back. The setting in Barker House has the unmistakable aspect of a real place, the dialogue the unmistakable ring of real speech. I loved my visits to this terrible kingdom.” Benjamin Nugent, author of FRATERNITY (forthcoming) and winner of the Paris Review's 2019 Terry Southern Prize
“A 'slaughterhouse,' writes David Moloney in his striking debut novel, Barker House, describing the decaying state of America's jails, the depths of that hell, and the lonely lot of jailers who are as trapped in their lives as the prisoners. Moloney's unflinching portrait of correction officers shows us the impossibility of a job that lords power, leads to self-destructiveness, and only in rare moments, allows room for compassion. Moloney's spare prose and painful tales grab the reader by the throat and won't let go.” Jean Trounstine, activist and author of BOY WITH A KNIFE
“Welcome to America, where the neglect of human beings has become a celebrated business model. Barker House is a novel as important as Ted Conover's groundbreaking nonfictional Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing when it comes to this country's increasing inequities of class and mass incarceration. David Moloney is compassionate and authoritative and hugely moving in his portraits of those left behind by the heartless for-profit systems we set into motion and then ignore.” Jim Shepard, author of THE WORLD TO COME
A collection of linked stories that explore an often overlooked class within our criminal justice system: corrections officers.
New Hampshire’s Barker County Correctional Facility, colloquially known as the Barker House, is a squalid, private, for-profit jail staffed by men and women trying to juggle work in the jail—where the general consensus is “this place will change you”—with their angry children, dying parents, second jobs, and DUIs. Most would rather have been police officers but, lacking connections, education, or military experience, settled instead for life in corrections. Some, like Brenner, the only female officer on her shift, are perplexed by “abrasive” officers who consider their jobs a sentence, “every task a trial, every inmate an enemy.” Others, like Kelley, a pacifistic young officer who objects to a beating he witnesses in the House, ultimately do change: Kelley eerily manages to dehumanize inmates while maintaining his nonviolent nature, referring to them only by their inmate numbers. In his daring, important, though at times uneven debut, Moloney, himself a former corrections officer, demonstrates a keen sense for detail and an intimate knowledge of his subject. In one moment he shows us the creativity of the small-scale sadist—Mankins, on the restricted unit, opens the rec yard door on frigid winter mornings when his inmates are trying to enjoy their showers—yet in the next shows us Big Mike, who moonlights as a bouncer at a strip club and whose father is dying of cancer, allowing his female inmates to “wear eye makeup they’d made from colored pencil shavings” on visiting days even though makeup is against the rules. The power of Moloney’s crisp observations, however, is partially diminished by some very careless sentences (“In the way of Tully’s happiness seemed to be his marriage but he would never say”) and his often repetitive story structure. Read the end of the first chapter—in which Mankins, our quiet sadist, towel-dries a crippled, freezing inmate while still not shutting the door—and you’re like Wowzers, that’s complicated, nicely done; but when the same formula is applied to a half-dozen more endings, one begins—in between those brilliant details—to disbelieve the construct.
Generally beautiful, sometimes unconvincing—very much a debut.