As I reach the finish line, I’m moved to consider whether or not Colin Barrett’s Young Skins is actually a decent collection of short stories. As I’ve mentioned before, Barrett’s name often features in articles devoted to the emergence of a new wave of Irish writers and I think the Glanbeigh stuff justifies his inclusion in those types of curatorial pieces… but only just.
“The Clancy Kid” and “Bait” are hip to gender politics and come with enough ugliness, sensuality and kinetic weirdness to ensure that they linger first in the eye and then in the mind. However, as compelling as the collection’s opening stories may be, nothing else quite manages to reach their levels of either cleverness or artistry.
Presenting Young Skins as a story cycle set in the fictional town of Glanbeigh was a great idea as it encourages us to view the collection’s weaker stories in a flattering light cast by its opening triumphs. However, while Barrett does connect the stories at the level of both place and character, he struggles to find deeper connections and so fails to achieve either stylistic consistency or thematic focus resulting in a collection that rapidly loses its shape despite the diminishing returns offered by the pretence of inter-connectedness. Once you realise that Barrett is never going to build on the achievements of those opening stories, you are left with the frustrating and the merely passable.
Young Skins’ final story “Kindly Forget My Existence” is an excellent case in point as while it would appear to be set in the same place as “The Clancy Kid” and “Bait” it is actually an entirely generic piece of literary writing that could have been written by almost anyone and published almost anywhere.