The Coast Of Leitrim by Kevin Barry, 2018
The magic trick:
Watching a man do everything wrong and continue landing on his feet
Really, really interesting story here. Especially interesting if you pair it with Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person,” published 10 months before “The Coast Of Leitrim” in the New Yorker.
Both stories portray modern dating, and both raise serious questions about a certain kind of typically male approach.
Barry is coy here. It being from the male protagonist’s perspective, we read the story with some inherent sympathy for him. I say inherent because I believe the reader always automatically allies with the narrator, at least at the start.
Problem is, that kind of access into his point of view reveals to us that he’s kind of terrible. Immature, obsessive, paranoid, insecure, generally just kind of selfish and impossible are other descriptors you might wish to apply.
But here’s the other problem: the story never punishes him.
We watch him screw up at every turn and continue to get chance after chance to try again – the very definition of white male privilege.
It might not seem that revolutionary, but it’s a short list, when you really think about it, of stories that reward bad behavior from start to finish.
And that’s quite a trick on Barry’s part.
He believed that Katherine, too, had sensitivity. She had a dreamy, distracted air, and there was no question but that she seemed at a remove from the other mullockers who worked in the café. The way she made the short walk home in the evenings to the apartments across the river in Cortober again named a sensitivity—she always slowed a little to look out and over the water, maybe to see what the weather was doing, perhaps she even read the river light, as Seamus did, fastidiously. He could keep track of her route home if he parked down by the boathouse, see the slender woman with brown hair slow and turn to look over the water, and it was only with a weight of reluctance that she moved on again for home.
In the sleepless nights of the early summer his mind ran dangerously across her contours. He played out many scenarios that might occur in the café, or around town, or maybe on a Sunday walk through the fields by the lake. It was a more than slightly different version of himself that acted his part in these happy scenes: Seamus as a confident and blithe man, but also warm and generous, and possessed of a bedroom manner suave enough to insure that the previously reticent Polish girl concluded his reveries roaring the head off herself in gales of sexual transport. Each morning when he awoke once more in an aroused state—there was no mercy—it was of Katherine from the café that he thought. She was pretty but by no means a supermodel, not like some of the Eastern Europeans, with their cheekbones like blades, and as Seamus was not himself hideous, he felt he might have a chance in forgiving light. All he had to do was string out the few words right in his mouth.
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