Book Discussion Forum: There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry

17287059I’m opening up this discussion late, but since I’m the only one in the room these days, it was so much easier to procrastinate. It gave me enough time to finish this relatively short collection of stories.

When I made my selections for this book club, I picked books that would not be part of my normal fare. Thus far, each book has challenged me, but for different reasons. The challenge with Kevin Barry’s stories was to stop my eye rolls. I liked his writing – his ability to paint these claustrophobic small town scenes. But I got to the point of sardonically thinking at the end of a story: Well, at least no one died.

I enjoyed the writing, but not most of the stories or characters. It seems like a strange dichotomy – to recognize the stellar writing, but also that you didn’t enjoy reading it. The trend in pop culture is bent towards the anti-hero, those characters that are complex only in that they do awful things and we’re supposed to feel sympathetic or in their corner. In Barry’s stories, there aren’t even anti-heroes. There’s just miserable people. That’s my judgment. Barry himself seems more kindly disposed towards his characters.

What is more interesting is the function of place and setting, which serve as characters in their own right. The scenery painted is always a reflection of the story and people – it feels as if there is no separation from the landscape and the people who inhabit it.

My suspicion is that feeling escapes from people and seeps into the stones of a place.

“Jumping off a Cliff: An Interview with Kevin Barry”, Paris Review, 11/12/13

The dialogue is probably the best part of this short story collection. He does it well and it reflects his philosophy regarding the importance of sound in writing. He has a wry sense of humor and there were sentences and conversation that made me laugh.

Writing for the ear is kind of like being an actor: I approach my characters as though I’m approaching roles to play out. Acting out the work, doing all the voices, and reciting it aloud is a very important part of the process for me. I write a lot of dialogue in my stories and novels. Duologues and monologues tend to be the engines of my projects, and I will rewrite the fuckers endlessly. I will do 100 drafts of a dialogue. I’ll constantly take the red pen to it as I act it out, trying to get closer and closer.

Kevin Barry, “How Fiction Can Survive in a Distracted World” by Joe Fassler, The Atlantic, 12/8/15

The writing means I’ll likely seek out a longer work by him, like City of Bohane. And I will keep this collection of short stories to reference it for dialogue.

Possible Discussion Questions:

Which stories appealed to you and why?

Is there particular imagery that stuck with you?

What are the stylistic or structural techniques used?

How did you feel during and after reading this collection?

What can you take away from this, as a writer?

Come on in. Have a seat. The words are free.

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