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Irish author Kevin Barry begins his latest collection of short stories (“Dark Lies the Island,” soon to be released in the United States from Graywolf Press, 192 pages, $24) with a tale of falling in love. But not exactly. “Across the Rooftops” is a story about slipping away from a party and sitting on a rooftop with the girl you've been trying to talk with all night. It's about that moment when you finally work up your nerve.
Barry's stories are centered around small but powerful moments, which Barry draws up and out, building suspense with his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue. Introspective, never sentimental, Barry's characters are united in that they are all searching for something, from a simple afternoon by the river to a place to hide.
In “Beer Trip to Llandudno,” for example, a group of men travels to Wales on a quest for the perfect pint. Barry pulls readers in with the easy banter among the men, as they compare waistlines and laugh like schoolboys on the train. But the story becomes more than humor: one of the men runs into an old flame, causing him - and his friends - to reflect on the state of their lives; what they should hold close, and what they should let go.
As Barry deftly explores the powerful friendships among the men, it's easy to make comparisons to another Irish author, Roddy Doyle, and his classic novel “The Van.” However, the second half of Barry's collection is certainly darker than anything Doyle has explored: two women attempt to abduct a child; a man is locked in a camper van for days; a young woman struggles against madness. But to this darkness, Barry brings poetry, nuance, and strange moments of grace.
If Roddy Doyle and Nick Cave could procreate, the result would be something like Kevin Barry.