That Old CountryMusic: Stories

Doubleday. Jan. 2021. 208p. ISBN 9780385540339. $23.95. F
Sit a spell with stories set in and around County Sligo, Ireland. Many of the characters here are solitary souls looking for some human connection—among them, a loner who becomes obsessed with a Polish waitress, a boarding school girl setting her sights on a local hermit with whom she plans to lose her virginity, and an old cop in his last weeks at work, determined to bring down a notorious reprobate. In “Who’s-Dead McCarthy?” McCarthy is a grim reaper of a fellow who delights in stopping people in the street to impart news of any recent death, whether local or from the world at large. In the title story, about a small-time robbery gone awry, Barry layers surprise upon surprise as a pregnant 17-year-old awaits her fiancé in the getaway car. As may be expected, drink plays a prominent role in these stories, especially in “Toronto and the State of Grace,” when a mother and son arrive near closing time at a nearly empty pub determined to work their way across an entire shelf of spirits while they regale the weary bartender with tales of their raucous lives.
VERDICT The multi-award-winning Barry (Night Boat to Tangier) dazzles with his word wizardry and the effortless grace of his perfect sentences. Highly recommended.
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