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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I must believe that she is out there, still beautiful, foul-mouthed and inviolate.", 30 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Dark Lies the Island (Paperback)
In this stunning new collection of stories, IMPAC Dublin Award winner Kevin Barry shows his complete mastery of the genre, presenting startling, eye-opening stories of love and loss, hope and despair, and acceptance and resistance. Many of the characters here reflect an almost religious belief that misery need be only temporary if one has the strength and will to search within. The characters spring from the page, face a demon or two, and then retire to small lives lived between the cracks of a larger society. These "unremarkable" people often overcome challenges of universal significance here, giving a resonance and a sense of thematic unity often lacking in other collections.

These are not "easy" or "comfortable" stories. Most of the characters are somewhat "off-kilter," their problems somewhat beyond those of most readers, and their lives more bizarre than most of us readers. Unfortunately, some of these characters are also too weak to see hope; some do not have the energy or desire to change; and some are so dependent on others for their emotional stability that they are not equipped to face the present, much less the future. Barry shows them all as they face turning points in their lives, for better or worse.

"Moving on" becomes a major theme here. Some characters gain new insights, and some do not. In the delicate opening story, "Across the Rooftops," the shy main character meets a woman at a party, and they go up on the roof overlooking Cork. He would like to initiate a relationship, but he does not know how to begin. She appears not to be interested, and as dawn rises, they both come to recognitions. "A Cruelty," shows Donie, a sad and quiet man, only thirty-six, who has taken the Dublin to Sligo train from Boyle Station every morning for the past twenty years. If the train is even twenty seconds late, he becomes nervous and fretful. The unexpected intrusion of a stranger into his personal space changes his life.

"Beer Trip to Llandudno" in Wales, winner of the Sunday Times Short Story Award, describes a trip by seven British friends as they participate in an outing of their Ale Club to Wales. Moving from bar to bar, they reveal much about their inner lives, at the end of which they become "sentimental as a famine ship," anticipating their return home. "Dark Lies the Island," shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award," uses the point of view of a young woman (an unusual change for this collection) who compulsively cuts herself. She is taking a "year out" from her education as she tries to get control of her life. Whether these characters will conquer their demons or succumb becomes the focus of their stories.

A looming menace pervades the collection, and the author's use of the cadences and slang of everyday street life infuses the dialogue with dramatic realism and a sense of spontaneity. Every story leads to some sense of resolution, for better or worse, as the author shows that even those characters who have no chance of avoiding the fates they see coming still wish for positive change, even if they have little hope. Dramatic, powerful, and often bizarre, this collection is just as often sensitive, delicate, and even subtle. Lovers of the short story will celebrate Barry's latest achievement, one which shows all his talents to their greatest effect.
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Review Details

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Reviewer

Mary Whipple
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   

Location: New England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 189