Deer Season by Kevin Barry, 2016
The magic trick:
Using two denouements to show the protagonist’s process from shame to grief to power
I’m not sure what to make of stories like this, where a middle-aged male author established a mood of sexual exploration for a teenaged female protagonist. I know it’s art, and I don’t want to bring too much of a puritanical expectation to my reading experience, but there’s something a little icky about it all.
And even if we eliminate the “icky” feeling and analyze with a clear mind the story as a work of art, I wonder whether this is his story to tell. I’m not saying that Barry, as a man, is co-opting a woman’s story, necessarily. But I do question his qualifications. No, I absolutely do not – emphasize NOT – think that a writer must only write about themselves, or their own race, gender, etc. However, a 17-year-old girl’s entrance into the world sexual identity and power? Why is Kevin Barry our best conduit for such a story?
I believe there are flaws in his attempt to be that conduit here in the story that confirm my concerns. The female protagonist here never rises above the level of trope. She makes clichéd decisions, has clichéd reactions, comes to clichéd conclusions. It all feels very much like a man’s point of view – if not fantasy. Even her choice of “hunting weapon,” the Bolaño book, is a very sex-with-women-in-a-man’s-world literary pick. And in the end, what are we left to take from her awakening? She has a new power? She has grown up and learned how to harness her sexuality? I don’t know, that feels very hollow to me. Compare this to one of the many Alice Munro stories that deals with girls becoming women, and, well, it’s almost like Barry is drawing with sidewalk chalk to Munro’s oil painting.
I will say I appreciate the story’s structure. There are essentially two denouements. The first comes when she returns home from school to the shame and anger of her father. The second comes in the final paragraph and scene when she returns to the man’s abandoned house. Her reaction grows more nuanced – and more mature – through the double conclusion, which allows for the story’s final theme to make itself plain. And that’s quite a trick on Barry’s part.
She saw him often in the morning and often again around dusk as he walked out by the river. She called him the riverman. She had seen him only in the distance and had not properly distinguished his features. She was almost eighteen and determined to have a fuck before it, but she lived remotely and the summer was almost over. He was tall and thin and did not have a pronouncedly masculine walk—he could not be taken for a farmer. His step was carefully picked out and it had a hesitancy to it—it brought to her mind the heron. She needed to get closer to him quickly.
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