Talking about Short Story Club: October 2014
This is the opening story in Barrett’s Frank O’Connor-winning collection, Young Skins, and sets the tone of small-town menace that permeates the book. Barrett has been praised for the confidence of his writing and command of language, and many readers enjoyed the great and unexpected turns of phrase that pepper this story: the ‘gnarled jawbone of the coastline’, the ‘radio static of the rushing water’, the ‘libidinal bass’ that ‘juddered the windowless walls’ of the local nightclub. Some pretty virtuosic phrasing is mixed in with the slang of the local youth, and this style provoked a lot of discussion amongst the group. Was this confident defiance of the kind of rules many of us have absorbed through writing classes and critique, or was it careless? Certainly some readers found it distracting, or undermining of the central character.
Another source of much debate was whether this story was funny, touching, or irretrievably miserable, even nihilistic. Many readers found humour in Barrett’s phrasing, and in the interaction of the characters, particularly Jimmy and Tug. This relationship, a complex friendship, was also the source of emotion in the story for some of the group, who responded to the depiction of small kindnesses – ‘I say nothing. So much of friendship is merely that: the saying of nothing in place of something’. For others the friendship was all about manipulation and taking advantage, and this, embedded in a world already limited and threatening, where nobody really seems to care about anyone else, made the story feel grim and sad. Again, opinions varied on whether there was any redemption here, and whether there needed to be. One thing we mostly agreed on, though, was that the threads of the story were all brought together by this line in the penultimate paragraph: ‘we all have things we won’t let go of’. So, sad perhaps, but not hopeless. I look forward to reading more Barrett.
Join us at the Short Story Club in November – find out more here.