Kevin Barry and the song of the short story

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Kevin Barry’s “Ox Mountain Death Song” is the featured short story in this week’s edition of The New Yorker, and as he says in a short interview which accompanies the piece, sound and rhythm are the things which dictated the direction of the narrative.

Barry, perhaps with tongue edging its way into his cheek, gives a few insights into his mode of story-writing.

He lies on his back in the ocean off the Sligo coast, for instance, or spends hours cycling through the Ox Mountains in Co Sligo, jumping off his bike to scribble down some notes or talk aloud to himself in an attempt to nail the cadence of the locale.

Most insightful of all, though, is the revelation that the sound of the sentences lift his stories and carry them almost magically in a different direction – “magically” is my word, of course, and one nowhere near magical enough to do justice to Barry’s sense of edge-of-realism – although whether he’s talking about this story in particular or his method ofwriting stories in general I’m not entirely sure

The rhythm of the prose works off refrain and reprise. At the level of the sentence, what interests me above all is its sound. I will happily subvert a sentence’s meaning for the sake of how it sounds, and then just go with whatever change results; I’ll let the sound dictate the story.

The story itself, which details “a portly detective and a rascal from a family a long while notorious”, is available online to New Yorker subscribers. To which class of people, sadly, I’ve yet to graduate.

Read “Ox Mountain Death Song” on The New Yorker (subscription)


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