... compelling ... Moloney takes a unique approach to telling this story, giving the reader a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters alongside their daily work routines...By taking this approach, Moloney explores humanity through the eyes of an oft overlooked population ... He exposes a high-stress, high-stakes work environment and probes the ways humans respond to that pressure. He provides a subtle yet striking commentary on the criminal justice system, examining how it shapes the lives of those who keep it running as much as those it governs ... Through the series of vignettes composed here, Moloney sets forth a clear, yet unbiased narrative. He masterfully employs a compact style of writing, thoughts parsed and sentences carefully clipped; yet each character comes to life, flawed and complex in a very real way. Each chapter stronger than the last, Moloney shines most brightly in the scenes where he zooms in to capture one-on-one human interactions in their most honest, vulnerable, and even repulsive states. And in the end, this novel ultimately leaves the reader unsettled, contemplating a series of questions: What exactly is the difference that leads one to land inside the walls of a prison as opposed to standing guard over it? What has brought the American justice system to this point? And what needs to happen to repair it, for the sake of all involved?
... self-assured ... Moloney highlights touching insights within the prison ... In spite of the verisimilitude that lifted up many scenes, however, I sometimes found myself confused by the routine prison duties described in the novel ... In spite of the sometimes baffling narrative, the problems the COs encounter will stick with me, as will the fact that few narratives tie up neatly.
... unflinchingly graphic ... Moloney sugarcoats nothing in this novel. Instead he pulls back the veil on this dark underbelly of society in stark and brutal prose. Barker House is not for the faint of heart or a reader looking for a fun escape (in fact, you may want to take a shower after finishing), but its importance as a portrait of our corrections system is undeniable.
... taut, haunting, and surprisingly hopeful ... takes an unblinking look at America’s criminal justice system ... The author, himself a veteran corrections officer, anchors the stories with quotidian details of prison life and a viscerally drawn setting that leaps off the page ... This strong work is an indelible look at how people respond to extremes and fight to hold on to their humanity in dire conditions.
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, 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 and his often repetitive story structure. Read the end of the first chapter 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.