Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “Calm With Horses”

At 74-pages in length “Calm with Horses” is not only the longest work in the collection by some considerable margin. It is also the only work that might be described as a novella rather than a conventional short story and this format change may account for why the stylistic fireworks that characterise both “The Clancy Kid” and “The Moon” feel less present.

So what does a Colin Barrett story look like when it isn’t waxing rhapsodic about fierce women and drink-cudgelled men? It looks exactly what I hoped it would look like: An intense and character-focused story that takes place in those few precious millimetres where the wheel of crime fiction hits the road of literature. Ragged, patchy and perhaps overly reliant upon the literary ellipsis, “Calm with Horses” is by no means a finished product but it bodes well for what Barrett might be able to accomplish once he starts producing novels.


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Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “Stand Your Skin”

I alighted on this book after reading a few reviews but none of them went so far as to mention a context for the book’s creation. Interviews with Barrett focus on his process and the fact that he evidently achieved publication after receiving a post-graduate degree means that he tends to view his own process through a lens of theoretical jargon. As a result, I was rather pleased to notice Colin Barrett being touted as one of the more striking voices of post-crash Irish literature. Evidently I’m not the only person who thinks that Barrett is on to something…

Looking back, I notice an edge to my last piece about Young Skins as I was starting to get very frustrated with the narrowness of Barrett’s subject matter: Yes, rural Ireland is a psychic sinkhole… Yes, Irish women are terrifyingly fierce… Yes, Irish men are hapless and broken figures… Is that all you have to say for yourself? Thankfully, the next story in the collection has gone some way towards renewing my faith in both Barrett and my decision to write at length about his collection of short stories.

“Stand Your Skin” may be another story of broken men, unattainable women and depressing local pubs but the slightly higher page count has allowed Barrett to move beyond his initial terms of engagement and provide us with a bit more of a character study. “Stand Your Skin” is all about how one of the broken men of Glanbeigh came to be broken in the first place.


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Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “The Moon”

Short story Short: This is yet another story about the impossibly fierce, beautiful and unapproachable women living in the fictional Irish town of Glanbeigh.

Short story Long: This follows the example set by “Bait” in so far as it takes the basic gender dynamics explored in “The Clancy Kid” and deepens the analysis by exporting it to a slightly different relationship. The result is a surprisingly humane short story about the crisis of masculinity and how young women react to the collapse of male identities. It also touches on the idea of change and how making positive changes in one’s life often requires levels of energy that are drained by the very things that would make you want to make those changes in the first place.

When change is impossible one can only settle and “The Moon” is as much a story about a woman’s refusal to settle as it is about a man finding comfort and stability in the misery that surrounds him.

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Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “Bait”

“Bait” closely resembles “The Clancy Kid” in that it is another story about the gender dynamics of Barrett’s fictional Irish town. In Glanbeigh, the young women are fierce and exotic creatures while the young men are so devoid of agency that they seem as though they could turn into furniture at any moment.

In both stories, a hopeless young local moves into the orbit of an impossibly glamorous local girl who brings something resembling happiness into his life only for it to be snatched away. Incapable either of grasping why the relationship came to an end or finding a replacement source of happiness, the young men fall into a pit of nostalgic self-loathing that prevents any and all forward motion. They simply cannot get over letting such gorgeous and exotic creatures slip through their fingers.

This is not just problematic, it is also profoundly unhealthy and the fact that all the men keep falling into the same hideous trap is a comment both upon the fucked up nature of the town’s male inhabitants and the fucked up nature of the town. If “The Clancy Kid” is a broad introduction to the pathological sexism of Glanbeigh then “Bait” is a look at the ugly masculinity that fuels it.


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