Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: "Young Skins" by Colin Barrett

While half the year is over, and I still have about 40 or more so books to read before the end of the year, I don’t think I will come across a better short story collection, or for that matter, debut, than Irish writer Colin Barrett’s first book, the collection Young Skins. It works on all levels, being the kind of debut you expect from a young and hungry writer, being filled with manic energy and an almost hostile need to create something new, but it is filled also with lots of old world knowledge about actions, consequences and regret that make Barrett a smart and uniquely talented writer. This collection is of the quality of such fantastic debut collections like Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff and Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana (although it is not nearly as violent or profane as those two books), and even, although it might be too early to say something like this, as good as some of my very favorite short story collections, like Scott Snyder’s Voodoo Heart and Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. It has a quiet confidence that I felt with every story, something that lets the reader know they are in good hands. Within the framework of a small, forgotten Irish town that seems to have a force field against its resident’s hopes and dreams, and lonely people are a dime a dozen, Barrett has crafted a truly engaging cast of characters, wholly unique and endlessly fascinating. There really isn’t a weak story here, although some are slower than others. The first story, “The Clancy Kid”, is one of these. It is a slow burn story where a lot of action is passed over for deep emotional violence, as a man and his loose cannon friend discuss the disappearance of a boy in the area over drinks at a bar when the man’s ex-girlfriend, whom he is still in love with, even if he won’t say so, walks in with her new fiancée. “Bait”, a funny story about a perpetual sidekick ends in shocking, heartbreaking violence. “The Moon” deals with one of the town’s most lonely residents, a lovesick boy with a scarred face who’s resigned to his perpetual misery. It’s not the strongest story here, by far, but it is still pretty damn good. “Calm with Horses,” the longest story (really more of a novella at 90 pages) is also the most action-packed, as it tells the story of a lowly drug dealer, handling a botched job and a family that hates him. It features a prolonged sequence of shocking, out of place violence that leaves the readers in hypnotized and excited up until its strange ending. “Diamonds” is a rather quiet tale following “Calm with Horses”, telling the story of two NA members who form a connection, but quickly break it off when they realize it won’t work. This is also the story that gives the book it's title. “Kindly Forget My Existence” might be the book’s highlight, as two former band mates reminisce about the women they both loved, who has just killed herself and whose funeral they are avoiding at a bar run by a Serbian veteran. The story ends on one of my favorite scenes in recent memory. Spoiling it would be criminal. Together and by themselves, these stories are nothing short of fantastic, and announce, with great vigor and adulation, the promise of a fiery new talent.
Rating: 5/5

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