A mischievous glint in his eye, Kevin Barry braced himself at the podium and launched into “Fjord of Killary”, a story from his newest collection Dark Lies the Island. He did not read the story, he told it – a fine line of distinction but an important one. His mannerisms, his voice (and voices), and his writing all combined to make the story (which is terrific on the page) come alive in the listener’s ear. It was an auspicious beginning.
I’ve made it pretty clear over the course of the reviews of Kevin’s three books (two short story collections – …Island and There Are Little Kingdoms – and the magnificent City of Bohane), I’ve become an immense fan. As I told him last night, I think he’s become one of my absolute favorite authors in a ridiculously short span. His conversation with Ms. Schappell last night just proved that he’s an author worth idolizing.
Looking relaxed and almost awed at the audience reception, he and Elissa sat on the stage of the lovely and intimate theater at Irish Arts and jumped right in. His self-deprecating and witty answers from the start confirmed his early assertion that comedy is the highest form. “Anyone can tell a tragedy,” he said – but it was comedy (black comedy, admittedly) that was the more difficult thing to write. He talked about how he develops his stories (story dictates style, the influence of music, predictions of the future) and offered some advice to writers as well.
But even in the discussion of working, the work itself bled through. He read an excerpt of Bohane and told stories of his time in various towns around the British Isles, every single moment indistinguishable in terms of their being told. One moment, he was imitating Wolfie riling up the Hartnett Fancy – the next, he was answering an audience question with a Liverpudlian accent. He’s a performer, or at least a man with a gift for performance, and the idea of some stories potentially being “dramatic monologues” someday seems like an absolutely perfect fit.
After some audience questions, the event spilled back into the lobby where Barry graciously signed and chatted with audience members ranging from Téa Obreht to Graywolf Press staff to newly minted lovers of his work. As I left into the crisp autumn night (with an authorial stamp of approval on my idea of a Logan Hartnett Halloween costume), one of the last things Barry said onstage stuck with me: “I get mad notions all the time.” If the success of these early works is any indication, there will be many more mad notions for many years to come – and I think the time may’ve already passed to see him in such intimate environs, for there are only even bigger things on the horizon.