I just read “Campfire Tales and Other Lies” by Jack Barry. It finally got to Amazon and the Wakefield bookstore. Jack had promised it would be there before Christmas, and silly me, I thought he meant last Christmas.
I got it home, put it near my chair by the window — all set for when I’d be able to sit and start my read. But when I wasn’t looking it started to rain and then it poured. Every tale and every lie was drenched. At first I thought it was bad luck, but then I thought of Jack’s trips back to Ireland. That’s when I realized that it must have been a gang of those pipe smoking, toadstool sitting, little pranksters who were out to get me. They are well known in the countryside near Jack’s Ballencolla native town.
I closed the windows and stood the book up, and by the next day the tales and lies had dried out enough for the pages to be readable, So I sat to see what Jack had to say. In no time I realized that this guy had a terrific book on his hands. I’ll leave for other folks to explain Jack’s writing techniques.
All I know is that whatever Jack did, worked well.
This soft spoken author and gentleman, has a way of doing more listening than talking, and ends up being able to find the goodness and humor in the strange characters that are always coming his way.
The skulduggery he gets himself mixed up in is both fun and poignant at the same time. He has an acceptance and appreciation for all sorts of people no matter what their foibles or eccentricities might be. There is a unique kind of soft funny kindness in Jack that works it’s way out onto his pages. I’m not sure how much is intentional or how much just slides out on its own, but there is a lot of it in there.
The trouble with Jack’s book, for me at least, is that it took too long to read. Seems like I had to put it down after every page to think for a while. Jack said he was going to run away from home on one page, but it was too close to supper. He said he should have turned out to be a conflicted, substance abusing, small time B and E man coming out of the ghetto the way he did. I don’t believe that for a minute. If anything, Jack would have been a big time B and E man.
Jack grew up with black folks all around and points out that if he were a black guy he’d be “pissed” about the way things are. But he isn’t a black guy. Jack was an Irish American kid coning up the hard way in the ghettos of Hartford and had plenty of reasons of his own to end up being pissed.
But he wasn’t. He found every day gifted with friends of all kinds of morals, and assorted deprivations and talents. They are all described, despite their various failings and peculiarities, with warmth, respect and tongue in cheek humor.
Jack is a far better master of the writing craft than i was expecting from the soft spoken local guy with a first book, and has a talent for incorporating the four letter vernacular into his work. To say otherwise would be an understatement. He puts that stuff in because it just seems to belong and also because it’s obvious that he has fun doing it.
And he has fun with his made up sayings like how hypocrisy ranks high on his ladder of parental perfection. A lot of the book is a light hearted tramp through a wonderful life. But at the same time, Jack is anything but untouched by the creeps who also steal their way into his thoughts. The worst of these darker side stories is Jack’s description of that shameful, despicable tale of Emmet Till’s murder.
One thing about Jack is that he doesn’t hold back about what he thinks and feels. He‘s a guy with enormous love and respect for his mother and isn’t afraid to say so. And worse than that he loves his wife and isn’t afraid to say that either. And nobody does it any more eloquently. What comes forth to us is a philosopher, and a humanist who happens to also have literary gifts. He‘s got his credenza full of philosophical gems about “Folks who do bad things but ain’t always bad, and folks who do good things who ain’t always good.” And his drawers are full with bits like how “Rhode Island is a place where folks may know north from south but don’t know right from wrong.”
Things were constantly going bad on Jack’s ill fated family camping odyssey, and yet, there he was feeling lucky, knowing he was someone who had so much to lose. It’s hard sometimes to decide where the sincerity leaves off and the humor begins.
The book left me wondering which part was my favorite. At first I thought it was the sincerity of “Mom”. and her homecoming to Ireland. But the little known information about Little Rhody and the humor of his geezer’s lament are right up there in contention.
And I guess I’m not the only one enjoying Jack’s book. I was in the store buying another copy the other day and was told it was their last. So unless kids from Jack’s old neighborhood are pilfering his books, it looks like Jack has a real seller on his hands. I imagine the hardcover edition will be out sometime before Christmas. But not sure exactly which Christmas that’ll be.