Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry: I’m not sure what I was expecting when I heard that noted Irish author Sebastian Barry’s new book was set in the American West, but it wasn’t Days Without End. The narrator, a member of Mr. Barry’s McNulty family, is Thomas, who escapes the brutal famine of Sligo only to find more violence and pain as a soldier, first fighting the Sioux in the West and then other Irish boys (but in gray) in the South. Though not immune to the toll of the carnage, Thomas tends to accept it as the way of the world. So too he accepts his love for John Cole, whom he met when they were half-starved boys. Together they care for Winona, a Sioux girl kidnapped after an army raid, trying to keep their small family afloat against terrible odds. Thomas’s narration is dreamlike and yet precise, ungrammatical and yet boasting an astounding vocabulary (“Empurpled rapturous hills I guess and the long day by brushstroke enfeebling into darkness and then the fires blooming on the pitch plains.”). It’s not perfect, but Days Without End is a bold, fearsome beauty of a book. Highly recommended.
Ballyturk, by Enda Walsh: I’ve had this play on my shelf for awhile, and I figured a dip out of my comfort zone would do me good. Ballyturk, which is about two men confined in a room and the worlds and rituals they construct for themselves, is one of those plays that I suspect is more dynamic in performance than in print. It’s quite odd in the beginning, though things (mostly) start to make sense near the end. One character has a long, lovely speech that made me wish the whole play had been written in that mode, rather than tending toward the absurdist—or maybe I wished I were reading a novel in that key. Anyway, I know I’m being rather vague here but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might see it in performance. Beckett fans, this might be of interest.