There Are Little Kingdoms - Kevin Barry
Having won a copy of Kevin Barry's second book of short stories and enjoyed it I put this, his first collection on my Christmas wish list and it turned out to be the one I received.
As predicted by a couple of people I found this a stronger collection than the second. The odd final line seems to be grasping for something it doesn't quite achieve, like a gymnast who takes a couple of steps after a dismount. But phrases are coined that sound both original and like the argot of a group you half belong to.
"even as the summer peaked so it began to fade."
In a breeze block arcade clinging to a garage in a small country town eternal rituals of adolescence take place around the pool table, the pinball machine, the jukebox, and video games Defender and Donkey Kong.
I still remember those bursts of fame that came when breaking the house record in a video game or being unbeatable on the pool table. Everything afterwards can only be a letdown.
This is my favourite story in the book after the first read. I can smell the dusty concrete and stale smoke and see the boys shifting feet and coughing nervously.
Dismount wobbles but you'd be cruel to take marks away.
To the Hills
Not so successful. A trio of hillwalkers, forty, used to being alone, rub off and against each other on a walking trip.
See the Tree, How Big It's Grown.
A man comes to on an Expressway (the Irish version of the Greyhound bus). He starts to piece together who he is and what he's doing. Far too familiar from binge (long distant) drinking days. Alcoholic amnesia. Why, and what, does he want to forget?
A bitter slice of midlands gothic. Poultry, priapism and pain. It sure ain't Kansas any more.
Last Days of the Buffalo
A sort of tragedy. "It would go through you, if you were unfortunate enough to be in any way soft-natured."
A town tries to pretend it's a village just before being swallowed whole by the city.
An old woman sits across from a young one on a train. She is determined to talk. Ready to confess and curious to know. A tale caught in transit.
Party at Helens
A world of pheromones, untidy bedsits and parties that go on until the following day. Here Barry slices through the night to give us a number of pen pictures of the flotsam circulating on a sea of ecstasy and techno.
And then there were three. At the bar, like.
Burn the Bad Lamp
Three wishes. Slightly used.
There Are Little Kingdoms
A whimsical piece set in a world that doesn't quite make sense.
Nights at the Gin Palace
A father and daughter await a camera crew who are coming to film the opening of their house, The Old Rectory as a 'Boutique Hotel' ---------- or not! She has a taste for jailbirds, he has a taste for Spanish brandy. What could go wrong?
Slight story which at one point repeats lines from and almost from earlier stories in perhaps the clumsiest dismount of all. Collection would be stronger without this.
The stories are sometimes slightly damp with irony. Not sure if this will lead to mould.
Having gone back through these stories I am reminded of the strengths of some of the stories in Dark Lies the Island, as some seem to be developments of stories here. I find the stories in both incredibly easy to read and they may well invite some rereads in the coming year.
The stories I feel like re-reading - Atlantic City; See the Tree, How Big it's Grown; Animal Needs & from Dark Lies the Island - Fjord of Killary, Beer Trip to Llandudno, White Hitachi & Berlin Arkonaplatz - My Lesbian Summer