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Young Skins: Stories Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
Note: the Colin Barrett who authored this book is Irish; not to be confused with an American author of the same name who has self-published a few books.
In the story "Diamonds," a man and woman in their thirties realize that they may have unknowingly crossed paths in their teenage years. "But you were there and I was there," the woman says, "In our young skins, though we didn't know each other from Adam. Strange to think of it." But in fact these people still don't "know each other from Adam"; they're two lonely alcoholics who met a few hours ago at an AA meeting and are now sharing a bottle and a one night stand. This melancholy scene, with that lovely phrase, "in our young skins," is typical of the writing in this beautiful debut collection of short stories.
The setting for all these stories is small-town Ireland, and the characters are for the most part working class young men who spend a lot of time in pubs, who swear a lot, who have a history of failed relationships, and who yearn for something deeper in their lives. The plots are rather minimalist, and the characters are drawn slowly and carefully, with spare dialog and little overt introspection. But the great pleasure in this book is in the writing, which is rich and beautifully crafted. Barrett has an excellent writing "voice," with a flair for graceful sentences and colorful description. His dialog is lyrical in spite of its spareness and earthy realism (and is also thick with Irish slang -- American readers may want to refer to Urban Dictionary or some similar website from time to time).
There are seven stories in this collection, and while all of them are excellent, I'd say that the highlight of the book is the longest story (at 70 pages), "Calm With Horses." Like its companions, this piece is largely a slice-of-life character portrait, in this case a portrait of an ex-boxer who now works as a bodyguard and enforcer for a small-time marijuana dealer. The character is by turns sensitive and brutal, but Barrett's writing makes him utterly believable and compelling. As the story veers into darkness and chilling violence it pulls the reader along with an irresistible force, arriving finally at an ending that's unexpectedly tender and mournful.
Perhaps my second-place favorite story was "Kindly Forget My Existence," in which two middle-aged men who were friends in their youth accidentally meet in an otherwise deserted pub. They're supposed to be attending the funeral of a woman they both once loved, but out of self-described "cravenness" have crept away to the pub instead. In its understated dignity and its open question-mark of an ending, I found the story reminiscent of Hemingway at his best.
Ireland has one of the richest traditions of short story writers of any nation in the world, and with this collection Collin Barrett is taking his place in that tradition.
“The Clancy Kid,” which establishes the tone and the themes for the entire collection, opens in a pub, where the speaker, Jimmy Devereux is sitting with his friend Tug, whose real name is Brendan. “Brendan” was the name of Tug’s older brother who died as a thirteen-month-old toddler, and Tug “was bred in a family warped by grief, and was himself a manner of ghosteen,” never able to shed the vision in the cemetery of “the lonely blue slab with his own name etched upon it in fissured gilt.” Within brief descriptions, the author conveys important themes and ideas and sets up the conflict that will erupt in the story, though the author lets the story unfold in surprising ways that change the focus from exterior plot to a study of character.
This perfect introduction shows the first of many characters dealing (or not dealing) with their lives and their environment. Most are, by nature, limited in their abilities to handle problems. “Bait,” the second story, shows two more characters, the protective and thoughtful Teddy and his cousin Matteen. As in the case of Jimmy and Tug, one character, Teddy, is the “minder” of the other, less thoughtful one. Here, however, the characters’ roles change, moving in ironic directions. Though Matteen has a real skill as a pool hustler and is able to earn money, the girls they meet have devious plans of their own. “The Moon,” a story about Val, a bouncer, and his right-hand man Boris, shows them also coming under the spell of women who have more insights into the world than they do.
Fate and the accidents which occur as a result of a character’s choices, misjudgments, or lack of insight create unexpected twists in the story lines, often leading the reader to feel sympathetic to these characters even when they bring on their own disasters. “Calm with Horses,” the ninety-page novella, has two main characters, Dympna and Arm, both minor dealers in marijuana, who, like the other characters live on the edge, physically and emotionally. Here an act of fate – or miscommunication –leads to disaster and horrific violence. The final story, about two men trying to decide whether to attend the funeral of a woman they both loved provides an appropriate ending and vision of hope. Straddling the line between comedy and tragedy, Barrett creates consummately Irish characters and crises, bringing the whole collection alive.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Gritty, sometimes bleak, but full of well-developed characters and emotions, the stories in Colin Barrett's collection Young Skins are...Read more