Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: "Young Skins: Stories" by Colin Barrett

Gritty, sometimes bleak, but full of well-developed characters and emotions, the stories in Colin Barrett's collection Young Skins are tremendously compelling and memorable.

Set in the small Irish town of Glanbeigh, Barrett's stories evoke the weariness one feels when they have spent most of their life in one place, with the same people, following the same path they always have. Sometimes his characters are down on their luck, sometimes their facing a major crossroads, and sometimes they're just hoping for a little more out of life. And even when they aren't the most upstanding people (to put it mildly, in some cases), Barrett's respect for his characters makes you care about them anyway.

I really enjoyed all seven stories in this collection. Some of my favorites included "Stand Your Skin," about a man whose face was damaged by someone else's act of recklessness, and how he tends to live his life on the margins; "The Moon," about a senior bouncer at a bar, whose infatuation with his boss' college-aged daughter makes him ponder a different life than he has known; "Calm with Horses," which followed Arm, the enforcer for a neighborhood drug dealer, whose life is far more complex and complicated than you'd expect; "The Clancy Kid," about a lovelorn young man and his larger-than-life best friend, who is obsessed with the kidnapping of a young boy from their neighborhood; and "Kindly Forget My Existence," in which two old friends and romantic rivals are reunited when both try to avoid a solemn occasion.

While Barrett's writing style reminded me a bit of Roddy Doyle's, he has a voice all his own. I had read about this collection a number of times over the last several months, and it always had been on my to be read list, but I'm so glad I finally picked it up. These stories are rich with character, plot, and introspection, and they definitely leave you marveling. Colin Barrett may be a relative newcomer to the world of fiction, but I don't anticipate he'll be a flash in the pan given his talent.

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