cover image That Old Country Music

That Old Country Music

Kevin Barry. Doubleday, $23.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-385-54033-9

Irish writer Barry follows Night Boat to Tangier with a rather mixed story collection. “The Coast of Leitrim” and “Deer Season” tread well-worn romantic territories, depicting doomed and all-too familiar relationships. “Who’s-Dead McCarthy,” about a morbid townie chatterbox, is entertaining, yet it ends with a punch line that falls flat. On the other hand, the title story, which follows a pregnant teen as she waits for her criminal fiancé to return from a robbery, pulses with electricity and emotion, despite its abrupt conclusion. “Toronto and the State of Grace” showcases the author’s gift for dialogue and wit, as a brash son and his elderly mother hold court in a sleepy pub, drinking their way through the pub’s liquor and showering the barkeep with stories. And “Roma Kid” transforms what initially seems to be a depressing runaway child story into a fairy tale of finding family and purpose. As always, Barry can’t write a bad sentence (“A light rain began to fall and it spoke more than anything else of the place through which she moved”), but the too-tepid stories don’t do justice to the author’s considerable talents. This won’t go down as one of Barry’s finer works. Agent: Lucy Luck, C&W. (Jan.)