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Between Trains

by Barry Callaghan

The stories in Barry Callaghan’s new collection are written in a plain style reminiscent of Hemingway. And as with Hemingway, there are depths of emotion roiling beneath the deceptively simple surface of Callaghan’s prose.

Callaghan’s protagonists are (with a few exceptions) men in conflict – mostly with themselves. A Bosnian sniper confesses to a priest about the men he has killed; an aging blues singer negotiates the aftermath of a one-night stand with a woman he meets at a gas station; a young layabout with pretensions to being an opera singer must face, in quick succession, the deaths of his mother, whom he adores, and his father, whom he does not.

What interests Callaghan most is not the action in his stories per se, but what occurs before and after the action. The author tips his hand in this regard in the opening vignette, in which an aging storyteller assures the narrator that the best storytelling “is still as still water.”

The writing in Between Trains is highly controlled and subtle. Callaghan is able to pull off deft and appropriate similes (“Her panic passed from room to room like a whisper”) and moments of surprising humour (“He came from a family of black preachers and ventriloquists”).

The only place the collection falters is in the story “Drei Alter Kockers.” By far the collection’s longest story, it is too mechanical in its construction, too calculated in its coincidences, and too neat in its conclusion to be entirely satisfying, particularly when placed in the context of a group of stories that largely avoid such contrivances.

But overall, Between Trains showcases a master of the short story form working at the top of his game. It is a collection of melancholy tales about people dealing with what has to be dealt with. As the girl from the gas station tells her one-night stand, “What has to be dealt with is miracle enough.”


Reviewer: Steven W. Beattie

Publisher: McArthur & Company


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 286 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-1-55278-631-4

Released: March

Issue Date: 2007-6

Categories: Fiction: Short