Kevin Barry Reads His Story, "Across the Rooftops"


The opening story from Dark Lies the Island is a single, perfectly observed scene: a kiss on a rooftop. Kevin Barry told the story behind “Across the Rooftops” for Storyville last week; and here, Barry reads his story aloud for your listening pleasure. Don’t miss seeing Kevin at one of his events (see below) this week!



I wrote this story in the June of 2011 while at home in County Sligo in Ireland. Emotionally, however, I suppose that I was residing in Cork city as I wrote, and it was a couple of decades previously; time will tend to become unmoored like this as I write.


I spent much of my twenties in Cork and trust me, I would have bungled many an attempted kiss with many a young lady. The rooftop in question certainly exists—it’s on a building in Washington Street in the city centre, overhead a barbershop; I used to live in the attic flat there in, I think, 1993.


It’s a story that very much proceeds line by line and that must succeed, if it’s going to succeed, by its quality of close description—the knit of the girl’s collarbone as she turns, the greened brass of the church’s dome across the way, and so on and so forth. I didn’t have a particular young lady in mind; I had many of them in mind.


I believe the story works, and I believe it works because it describes a near-universal experience; so very few of us are capable of operating smoothly or suavely within the realms of romance.


An odd thing is that I was writing another short story simultaneously with this one—the story “A Cruelty”, which also appears in Dark Lies The Island. That story is very sad and rather scary, whereas “Across The Rooftops” is kind of sweet and tender; it was a relief to switch back to the latter from the former. I would have both stories open on the laptop at the same time, and I would swap back and forth every couple of sentences. I finished both stories inside a week, and I knew immediately that both were strong enough to go in the collection—such occurrences, and such a rate of productivity, are extremely rare in the life of a short story writer, or at least they are in this one.


—Kevin Barry




October 8, 7:00 p.m.: Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA.


October 9, 7:30 p.m.: Irish Arts Center (in conversation with Elissa Schappell), New York, NY.


October 10, 7:30 p.m.: Greenlight Books (in conversation with Craig Finn of The Hold Steady), Brooklyn, NY.


October 11, 4:30 p.m.: Princeton University, James M. Stewart Theater, Princeton, NJ.