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New Yorker Fiction Review #165: "Deer Season" by Kevin Barry



Review of a short story from the Oct. 10, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

Something possessed me to listen to this story instead of read it. IDK why or if it makes a difference in one's appreciation of the story, but Kevin Barry has a cool Irish accent that makes the word "thighs" -- for example -- sound like "ties." And who better than the author themselves to know how to massage a story properly so as to bring out its full meaning. Also, it was late and I didn't feel like reading.

Powerful and engaging story about an Irish girl on the verge of her eighteenth birthday who decides that she needs to lose her virginity before she goes back to school for her final semester of...university? High school? I was never sure how they do it in Europe. So she seduces a local drifter and causes him to be run out of town after it's found out that they slept together.

I think Hemingway said something about love, sex, war, and death being the best material for writers to work with (and if he didn't he should have) and let's face it...those subjects rarely fail to entertain. Especially sex. There's a great amount of prurient tension in this story as we know, once the girl has decided it's going to happen, it's going to happen, one way or another, and it's probably going to be awkward. Incidentally, the girl delivers just about the best post-sex comment I've ever heard about in fiction or in real life, asking the man, "Is that about the size of it??" moments after he's finished and has pulled away, far sooner than she's expected.

The story is about a teenager's first experience with sex, but it's about much more, and the final sentence of the story speaks to that. She has gone to visit the house where the man she slept with used to live, well after he's been run out of town: "When she at last rose to go she was stiff from the cold and felt many years older as she left the house and made for home through the night and dark and the pads of her feet beat out the new soft rhythm of her power."

That last phrase "the new soft rhythm of her power" is what I find most intriguing and thought-provoking. The idea that, before the incident and before she (sort of) caused the man to get run out of town, she did not understand the power of her sexuality. Now she does.

Barry's fine and insightful handling of the girl's awkward first foray into seduction is also one of the highlights of this story, and is to me the mark of a master writer.


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