RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Colin Barrett's award-winning book of short stories is called "Young Skins." And it's full of the characters your parents probably used to warn you away from. Some are violent. Some are addicts. And others are just lost in a gritty world in which they see no escape. But it's not all bleak. On today's Weekend Reads, author Tessa Hadley tells us why Colin Barrett's "Young Skins" is worth picking up.
TESSA HADLEY: It's set in a small town somewhere in Ireland. And these could look, from the outside, pretty miserable lives - young people, we don't hear much about them at work or they're selling dope or whatever. And there's quite a lot of angst. But at the same time, first of all, he's an incredibly funny writer, but as well as that, he has this kind of lovely, poetic language that he uses to describe these lives. And it's something about that mismatch with this lovely, high-flown, playful writing. That's what I can't resist.
MARTIN: It is a collection. And the first story is called "The Clancy Kid." Could you read a little bit of that story for us?
HADLEY: I'll ready from the very opening.
(Reading) My town is nowhere you have been, but you know it's ilk. A roundabout off a national road, an industrial estate, a five-screen Cineplex, a century of pubs packed inside the square mile of the town's limits. The Atlantic is near. The gnarled jawbone of the coastline with its gull-infested promontories is near. Summer evenings, and in the manure-scented pastures of the satellite parishes, the Zen bovines lift their heads to contemplate the V8 howls of the boy racers tearing through the back lanes. I am young, and the young do not number many here, but it is fair to say we have the run of the place. It is Sunday, the weekend, that three-day festival of attrition, is done. Sunday is the day of purgation and redress of tenderized brain cases and seesawing stomachs and hollow pledges to never, ever get that twisted again.
And I should've said before I began reading that, of course, I'm reading it in my English accent that I'm stuck with, but really to really hear that lovely sonorousness of those sentences and those descriptions, you need Colin's own voice with his good Irish accent. The Irishness is there in the way the sentences are put together, but I can't give that proper expression.
MARTIN: The town itself is a character in all these stories that holds them together. But he does spend a lot of time developing the people who inhabit these tales.
HADLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
MARTIN: And I want to ask you about the female characters. Would I be wrong to suggest that there are some feminist themes in his writing?
HADLEY: I don't know if it's exactly feminism, but that is a very interesting way of thinking about it because it's certainly true that if anybody is stuck in these stories, helpless in various cycles of doomed violence or just a kind of fatalism, it's the boys. It's the boys and the men. In one of the stories in the middle of the collection, the girl who is looking after the protagonist baby, she's ironing - got piles of ironing but she's also got textbooks 'cause she's going to go back to college. And there's another girl in another story, who's off to higher education. It's the girls who seem to get out and make their escape. I have no idea whether that represents the reality of a sociology in temporary Ireland, but it's certainly - that's Colin Barrett's story about the genders.
MARTIN: As you described, Colin Barrett seems to appreciate contradictions. He is writing about this grim place, and the stories have such a dark edge to them. But he's funny. There's humor in his writing.
HADLEY: So funny. I think without that, actually, they wouldn't work. They would be portentous or something. But that extravagant style, which I talked about and which you could hear in the extract I read, really almost over-the-top, almost - you know, some of the descriptions of the individuals. There's a couple of henchmen who come in with one of the bad guys into the pub at one point.
And they are what you'd get if you'd asked the gods for henchmen - two slabs of meat. But another thing, in that funniness, there's a kind of generosity, I think. So that most of these stories, no matter how - you know, what deadly paths the protagonist seems set upon or what a mess they're making, actually the humor of it enjoys them. It actually likes these people.
MARTIN: That was author Tessa Hadley talking about Colin Barrett's book of short stories titled "Young Skins."
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