In I received an advanced review copy of this collection of short stories from Grove Press through Edelweiss.
This collection of stories is a bold glimpse into the daily struggles of young people trying to carve out some type of existence in their small Irish town. The rural Irish town of Glanbeigh is short on opportunities but has plenty of pubs and nightclubs in which the local population can get into lots of trouble. The opening lines of the collection perfectly capture the setting and the mood of each story:
My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk. A roundabout off a national road, an industrial estate, a five-screen Cineplex, a century of pubs packed inside the square mile of the town’s limits. The Atlantic is near; the gnarled jawbone of the coastline with its gull-infested promontories is near. Summer evenings, and in the manure-scented pastures of the satellite parishes the Zen bovines life their heads to contemplate the V8 howls of the boy racers tearing through the back lanes.
I am young, and the young do not number many here, but it is fair to say we have the run of the place.
In the first story, “The Clancy Kid,” Jimmy is sitting in a pub nursing a hangover from the previous night’s festivities by sipping a beer. In his state of intoxication the night before, Jimmy has also had a tryst with his ex-lover, Marlene. We learn later in the story that his feelings for her run deeper than he is willing to admit. Jimmy’s friend Tug, the town bully, helps him get the lady’s attention in a most unusual way.
“Calm with Horses,” is more of a novella than a short story that is included in the collection. Arm and Dympna are making a living in this small town by dealing drugs and Arm is the “muscle” of the operation. Even though he makes a living through the use of violence, Arm does have a softer, more understanding side which comes through when he is taking care of his autistic son. At several times throughout the story he tries to help other people out of their miserable situations; but it is this unwavering and even naïve support of his friend that leads to Arm’s own downfall
In “Diamonds,” the main character tries to move away from his small town but he finds nothing but work in a pub which exacerbates his status as an alcoholic. The details in these stories, which are oftentimes omitted in the brevity of short stories, makes the tales brilliant. For example, it’s not the loss of his job, relationships or health that drives this character to straighten out his life. It is the death of his beloved cat Ruckles, who accidentally ingests some of the narrators drugs, that forces him to reexamine his life. And we are deftly reminded of Ruckles former existence throughout the story.
The principal at his former high school offers the narrator a job as a groundskeeper which position comes with housing and a small stipend. The principal is cleverly called “The Sentimental Authoritarian” because he has a romantic nostalgia for the past but also demands that the main character do his job properly and stay sober. But, ironically enough, after he meets a woman at an AA meeting, his tenuous grasp on sobriety immediately goes out the window.
The prose, the flawed characters and the ugly, yet realistic setting are all characteristics which make Barrett’s writing intense and vivid. YOUNG SKINS is a must-read for those who love short stories and contemporary Irish Literature.
About The Author:
Colin Barrett was born in 1982 and grew up in County Mayo. In 2009 he completed his MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin and was awarded the Penguin Ireland Prize. His work has been published in The Stinging Fly magazine and in the anthologies, Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails (Stinging Fly Press, 2010) and Town and Country (Faber and Faber, 2013).