I’m always admirative of authors that can bring entire worlds, depict insanely convincing characters and trigger numerous emotions with only a few words, a few strokes of the pen. Barbara Byar is one of those authors.
In Some Days Are Better Than Ours, she takes us through the tragic lives of numerous characters – families shattered by death, disease and broken marriages, abuse survivors on a quest for revenge, broken souls trying a new path, children destroyed by war. She explores recurrent themes using different styles, varying the poetic, the emotional, the raw or the R-rated and she excels at all.
The most predominant theme recurring throughout the collection is the one of abuse – physical, sexual, psychological; but also the substance abuse, often the catalyst to those tragedies.
Byar is the voices of numerous victims – fragile mothers, innocent children, naive teenagers. She uses her strong style to denounce ugly truths, shout her anger and disgust. She traps the reader in haunting words and scenes, where what isn’t said is scarier than what is; showing the world through a peep hole, only revealing fragments of a complete picture that might be too difficult to stomach.
Bear couldn’t talk, her mouth was sewn shut, but her never-closing, black button-eyes assured me everything would be alright. That’s where I looked. Each time. Every time. […]
Sometimes, after, when I cried in Bear’s arms, snot snarling her fur, I’d hear Bear in my head. (Bear)
‘Useless cunt. The only thing he knows how to do right is
fuck everything up. Now piss off and make me a cuppa.’ Palm branded red on Mum’s face, Henry returned to putting up his new motorbike shed. (Nails)
She takes us on a wild ride through continents, alternating stories from her native US with the ones from her adoptive Ireland. While the Irish ones tend to be more of the huis-clos type, suffocating domestic dramas from which there is no escape, the US ones are wilder, more theatrical, with dramatic landscapes and fast-paced actions.
They’d met in a bar in Omaha. She had no money, but she did have tits. He had plenty of the former, not enough of the latter. It was a fuck made in heaven. He was half her age and twice her height, but none of that mattered lying down. She’d wrecked his marriage, then his head, snatched his stash and his car, then headed for California. (Old Woman in a Black Buick Tripping on Nine Inch Nails)
Her stories also take us through time, as they spam from WW2 to a near future.
Her war stories are so vivid they are almost cinematographic, bringing the past right before the reader’s eyes.
Krista is quick. She does not enjoy what she must do but understands it must be done. Before the war, she refused to kill anything, even insects. But it is different now. Everything is different. (The bar of chocolate)
As for her more dystopian ones, they feel like the artist mucked her canvas with a thick coat of bleakness, showing us an intriguing and terrifying world that doesn’t yet exist but that might not be far off.
No more Christmases. Not ever. Ever. Can’t go home. There were no homes anyway. Only cells. They were gathering them up, slamming the doors and throwing away the keys. Mandy felt the window eyes watching. The curtains twitching. Was it better to be locked up waiting for the food to run out? For everyone to turn on each other? For mothers to eat their young? (Yellow)
The tragedies in this collection are not the Romeo & Juliet theatrical type ones. They are the everyday tragedies.
On the hospital bed, heart clap clop clopping like hooves through the cold, dark night – ‘There’ll be no Christ anthems at my funeral, Lily. No fucking flowers. No song and dance. Don’t let my mother at it. (I eat flowers on your grave)
They are the tragedies that happen behind your neighbour’s closed doors. The wrong turns taken at some stage in life, the choices that result in a world of pain. But in some of stories, it’s not too late to turn things back around and the author drip feeds hope throughout. She also brings humour and hints of surrealism to the collection, making it a multifaceted wonder.
Martin Hayes didn’t know what was more unusual – twenty degrees of sunshine during mid-term break or the stranger who’d pitched a fold-up table in front of the end-of-terrace wall […] with his black suit, fridge-white shirt and bow-tie, the stranger was a disturbing blend of undertaker and ice-cream man. (Three is a magic number)
Barbara Byar is never very far concealed behind her characters who she either protects or castigate. Her book exposes unpleasant truths, shows ugly worlds coated with beautiful words. The result is gutsy, brave and honest, it makes you think, cry and feel, and it stay with you long after you’ve closed the book on its stunning final story.
Some Days Are Better Than Ours is published by Reflex Press, the brilliant people that started the “pay what you can” submission fee to their quarterly competitions.
Barbara Byar is an American immigrant into Ireland who lives in County Kerry with her two sons and two dogs. A previous Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair winner, she’s had pieces in various zines, including: Ghost Parachute, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Fiction February, Spelk, The Corridor, EllipsisZine, Litro, and Cabinet of Heed. She was short-listed for the 2017 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award and long listed for the 2017 Bare Fiction Prize. Barbara is also a reader and Senior Editor for TSS Publishing, UK and Virtual Zine.
Review by Barbara F. Jones
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