cover image Dark Lies the Island

Dark Lies the Island

Kevin Barry. Graywolf, $24 (192p) ISBN 978-1-55597-651-4

There are a lot of pleasures to be had in Barry’s short story collection. First, there’s his way with language—a bent form of Irish that makes the most mundane exchange, like those of the mileage-obsessed locals at the hotel bar in “Fjord of Killary,” somehow hilarious. Then there’s the pleasure of safely spending time in the company of people you might well cross the street to avoid, like the Mullaney brothers in “White Hitatchi,” who are well-known to the local constabulary, or the law-abiding but big, sweaty, and, as their beer-tasting excursion extends, presumably loud, friends of “Beer Trip to Llandudno.” Whether they did well in the high-flying Celtic Tiger years, or, more likely, missed out entirely, whether in Ireland or part of the vast Irish diaspora, Barry’s characters tend to be aware of both the exact alcohol content of their chosen beverages and the likelihood that the road they’re on isn’t leading anywhere good. Though “Dark Lies the Island”—one of the few stories told from a female point of view—isn’t the collection’s strongest, it does offer the perfect title overall: the island and its inhabitants aren’t doing well, and Barry is a master at showing both the darkness and the piercing moments of humor and self-knowledge that now and then penetrate it. (Sept. 24)