The Importance of Being Barry

A sound argument can be made that Sebastian Barry is the most versatile Irish writer since Oscar Wilde. Barry, as was Wilde, is a playwright, novelist and poet. My wife Anne and I had the privilege of seeing Mr. Barry last weekend at our local Barnes & Noble as part of his American promotional tour of On Canaan’s Side, his most recent and Booker longlisted novel.

A good chunk of the novel takes place in Chicago, and he read with great dramatic flair two passages with Chicago settings. Later on, in the autograph queue, I asked if had read Saul Bellow, and he mentioned that he read Herzog.

The actor Larry McCauley happened to be part of the audience, and Mr. Barry acknowledged him as an actor in the Chicago debut of his play The Steward of Christendom. McCauley, who I had seen reading from Ulysses at the Bloomsday celebration at the Cliff Dwellers Club, recreated a powerful scene from the play entirely from memory. It was a beautiful way to conclude a most satisfying literary evening. The only thing missing from the evening was a poem.

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