In The Ways, the second story in Colin Barrett’s superb second collection, every sentence is as full and alive as a sentence can be, while managing to stay ordinary ... This collection extends Barrett’s range, but it has its share of damage, still. Two men are in wheelchairs; one character’s hands are stuck in a rictus that obliges him to drink from a straw. A stranger is 'touched,' as people were said to be touched by the fairy folk ... In some stories, the folkloric gives way to the contemporary right there on the page ... In its highest style, the work fits into a tradition that moves through Kevin Barry and Marina Carr back to the epic tales of old Ireland, a mode that shifted from the heroic into the mock-heroic in the work of Joyce and Flann O’Brien ... I don’t think it is too strong to say that Barrett’s work hit an inflection point in Irish culture ... To be a male writer in those years must have required a kind of double vision, a tally of what might be lost and what could be gained. This is more problematic in a tradition so interested in loss, and how men in particular deal with the hurt of dispossession ... A real writer (no small compliment, here) meets all this. He lets the changing moment sink in and settle, and inform what comes next ... Barrett is already one of the leading writers of the Irish short story, which is to braggingly say, one of the leading writers of the short story anywhere. He means every word and regrets every word. He just kills it.
Its comedy stands in balance to the collection’s more tragic tenor ... expands [Barrett's] range, and though the first took place in the fictional Irish town of Glanbeigh, the books share a fabric shot through with dark humor, pitch-perfect dialogue and a signature freshness that makes life palpable on the page. The language counterpoints the sometimes inarticulate desperation of the working-class characters, and that dissonance lends an emotional complexity to their stories ... As a writer, Barrett doesn’t legislate from the top down. His unruly characters surge up with their vitality and their mystery intact. Their stories aren’t shaped by familiar resolutions — no realizations, morals or epiphanies. The absence of a conventional resolution does risk leaving an otherwise charming story like The Silver Coast with the rambling feel of a slice of life. But in the majority of the stories in this book, to reinvent an ending is to reinvent how a story is told, and overall, Homesickness is graced with an original, lingering beauty.
Barrett’s stories contain so many layers they’re worth rereading more or less right away ... Some prose writers, especially those who are deft with plot, can keep your attention even while writing unnecessary sentences. That’s not the case with Barrett. Every line counts; if you skim his work, you may understand it, but you’ll rob yourself of both pleasure and surprise ... That needle-drop of wisdom amid life’s dailiness signals Barrett’s unique genius more than any under-35 accolade can ... If Barrett should choose one day to write a novel, it will be something to see, perhaps like the parts of the Irish coastline the tourists ignore. Forget your Cliffs of Moher and take a detour to those at Slieve League; gasp as you summit the rise and face natural glory unmarred by visitor centers or traveling herds in thin plastic ponchos ... That’s the experience of reading Barrett’s fiction — the hard truth shorn of familiar signposts or souvenirs. He writes what he knows, but he also writes to discover what he doesn’t know, a simple but crucial distinction you can sense instinctively, no matter how many of his compatriots you’ve already read.
Barrett moves us by showing us moments of great loss as they are in the process of being managed, deflected, so they strike the character and the reader with renewed force as they emerge from stoical attempts to get on with life ... Other stories are more comic in tone, and show a lineage with Kevin Barry, another celebrated west Ireland writer ... Small-town life is claustrophobic, but can be redeemed through community. And it is in the stories of the characters who haven’t left where Barrett’s achievements are most extraordinary ... This is a beautiful and moving collection, from one of the best story writers in the English language today.
If there is any concern about the health of the short story in the next generation of Irish writers, Colin Barrett's Homesickness: Stories, his second collection, should help put that to rest ... 'The Alps,' one of the collection's strongest entries, is noteworthy for the way Barrett subtly toys with readers' expectations ... From the beginning, the threat of violence looms, but when it appears, it does so in a completely unexpected, and even moving, fashion ... Characters like these may be humble, but there's nothing unimpressive about their portrayal in these thoughtful, well-wrought tales.
Many a writer claims mastery of technique, but few deliver at the auspicious level of Colin Barrett, whose roving perspectives, lopped-off endings and Kevin Barry-esque dialogue dazzle in his second collection ... Barrett harnesses his craft in service of his characters, mostly working- and middle-class folks from Ireland's County Mayo, their dreams played out, or at least caught in a ditch along some ribbon of highway ... He deftly conjures the ragged beaches and lonesome backroads along Ireland's northern coast ... Like other leading Irish stylists — Barry, Roddy Doyle, Edna O'Brien and the late William Trevor among them — Barrett is a doyen of the sentence; each cracks and snaps like a bullwhip. We know these characters because we hear and see them in perfect clarity. They're not homesick so much as sick of home ... its wrenchingly beautiful scenes, its lush evocation of place, prayers for a people doing their best to just get by.
Barrett shows throughout these stories people’s capacity for care and cruelty, and their tendency to veer from one to the other ... Comedy gives variety to the collection ... There is a pleasurable coherence of style and content ... Even though we rarely enter their internal worlds, Colin Barrett conjures interiority through his linguistic precision and attention to external detail, so that each story lingers in the mind and haunts its successors.
Whether or not Colin Barrett is a great short story writer (after two slender collections, it’s still too soon to say), he is certainly a natural short story writer — that is, someone who thinks brilliantly in and with the short story form ... we’re fully and firmly in Colin Barrett Country now, which is perhaps, after all, contiguous with Barry Country, but which has its own rhythms and moods, its own feel for the human comedy, its own sense of the human tragedy ... He is clearly a prose tinkerer, a stylist, an artist in pursuit of the nuance, of the brilliantly fugitive detail ... He does what Chekhov does — that is, he makes you forget you’re reading a short story — though his beginnings are sometimes stiff in the classic short-story way. But then, after a paragraph or two of slightly cramped prose, the characters come alive, the story moves ... Homesickness is short — 213 pages — but rich. The odd stray patch of stiffness aside, it’s the work of a writer who is both a gifted stylist and an intuitive storyteller, and if Barrett isn’t quite Chekhov (but then who is?), he’s now definitively himself — and the future awaits.
Is home a time as much as a place? Does a disaffection take root when you stay close to home for too long? Such questions linger in the mind after reading these eight stories ... Where that first collection told with panache the stories of young petty criminals in a fictional part of Ireland, Homesickness feels more grounded, in part due to its real setting, gentler pace and concern with older characters ... You could open Homesickness at any page and find sentences of vim and elegance, ringing dialogue ... These characters may exist on the margins, but Barrett puts them at the centre of their own worlds.
Barrett is a young author but he writes with the expansiveness and relaxed control of his wisdom that tends to be a feature of late assurance ... Barrett’s tone can be cutting in a satiric mode without being ungenerous or intolerant ... In that the stories in Homesickness naturally drift along, focus on the everyday and tend to conclude undramatically or in an open-ended manner, Barrett might be called a 'quiet' or 'gentle' storyteller. But he also packs in a lot of incident, and his stories bristle with reasonably busy cast lists. It almost feels as if whole novellas or even novels fit snugly inside ... Away from Mayo, Barrett and his writing seem free to have a different kind of fun. But when it comes to thinking about his homeland, distance could even be said to have made it more vivid.
This new collection, Homesickness, is even stronger. This time we’re in the real world. Almost all of the stories are set in Co Mayo, peopled by a cast of characters so real you can practically smell the Guinness on their breath ... Each story drops the reader straight into a world, a life, that is already in full spate ... As in Young Skins, moments of random violence and buried tenderness abound. Nothing is obvious and everything is interesting ... The prose, while still vulnerable to abverb-itis (in one paragraph we find 'balefully frail demeanour', 'lavishly wayward course' and 'broodingly ensconced'), has relaxed since Young Skins, allowing Barrett’s powerful descriptive gifts to really shine. But too many of these stories feel as if they are two pages away from greatness. Greatness is rare, though, and these stories are still very good: Barrett is definitely one to watch. Perhaps it’s best to think of Homesickness as a book of photographic portraits.
Don’t expect spectacle from these eight superb short stories, set, with one exception, in Ireland, for they’re quiet examinations of mundane lives that are made extraordinary by the author’s remarkable talent for creating unforgettable characters ... Barrett’s stories are, without exception, beautifully written, full of arresting imagery ... Like everything else in these stories, it’s an artful strategy, which, taken in sum, demonstrates how beautiful the ordinary can be.
Eight richly descriptive stories examine the various textures of disappointment in families and communities where success is not the norm ... In the opening story, 'A Shooting in Rathreedane,' that violence, as well as Barrett’s pitch-dark sense of humor, is on full display ... The fine distinctions of social class in his community are as clearly noted as the protagonist's subtle changes of mood. Barrett's playfully extravagant language makes the depressing stories more palatable even as it distances the reader from the plights of the characters. This sharply observant collection resists pigeonholing its recalcitrant characters.
Irish author Barrett, who debuted with the multi-awarding-winning collection Young Skins, returns nearly a decade later with a collection whose characters are somewhat older and more often anguished than angry ... Barrett’s mostly dogged characters live hardscrabble lives, and in this strong second collection—not a repeat act—readers become involved in the simple but crucial issue of how they will manage.
Barrett (Young Skins) returns with a set of bittersweet and chiseled tales of Irish life. Each story coolly dissects various disappointments, tragedies, and eccentrics, avoiding epiphanies in favor of quiet, suggestive endings ... From gritty realism to oddball noir, this assured collection demonstrates the talent of a distinctive writer.