“Whoever Is There, Come on Through”
by Colin Barrett
originally published in the January 1, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

We got a bit of a preview of this one last week when David discovered that The New Yorker had posted it online early. Using the wayback machine, you might be ahead of the game. Indeed, David has already written my post for me!

For those who are curious, the story is “Whoever Is There, Come on Through” by Colin Barrett. His other stories published in The New Yorker are “The Ways” almost exactly three years ago, “Anhedonia, Here I Come” in 2016, and “The Hairless Are Careless” in the summer of 2017 flash fiction series. He published a book of short stories (Young Skins) in 2013, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Guardian First Book Award in 2014. He has also recenty had a short story and a couple of essays published in Granta. (Saving you the leg work on the intro, Trevor. Merry Christmas!)

Much appreciated, David — I’m going to go ahead and use your gift!

Merry Christmas to all!

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By |2017-12-25T19:44:36+00:00December 25th, 2017|Categories: Colin Barrett, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |14 Comments


  1. William December 31, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    where are the comments? I need help deciphering this (perhaps deceptively simple) story.

  2. Trevor Berrett January 1, 2018 at 3:17 am

    I haven’t looked at it yet, William, but I would like to since I’ve liked Barrett’s work in the past. Do you recommend it?

  3. pauldepstein January 1, 2018 at 7:36 am

    I’ll put it in the worth-reading category. I don’t understand why the story ends where it does. Was the author tired of writing? Was it about to exceed the New Yorker’s word count. As a thought experiment, imagine going to a reading event where a story is read aloud. I think the audience hope to recognise the ending immediately from following the story. You don’t need to wait till the pause has exceeded five seconds, or until the end is announced. If this story was read aloud, no one would have a clue that the story had really ended. People would just wait and wait and wait. And eventually, the audience would twig (I think “twig” might be a Brit word) “Oh we must have reached the end here, because this pause is too long for a normal pause between paragraphs.” A story isn’t supposed to end that way. Where’s the rest?

  4. William January 1, 2018 at 8:31 am

    I agree with Paul on both counts — it is worth reading and the ending is surprising and abrupt. It passed my basic test for a good story – I started reading and read through to the end with interest and without stopping. As for the ending — it made me think. It says something about what the story is intended to do. At that point the story has done its job. So what is its job? The other clue is the title, which is used once in the story. I know, a story is not supposed to be a puzzle that we have to suss out (that’s British too, I think). But it does deserve a bit of thought.

  5. David January 1, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    I enjoyed the story as a study of the characters in it and the nature of their relationships. It is not a story about the events that happen so there really isn’t supposed to be a start or ending in that sense. If you read the author interview you will see that his interest was more about who these people are and how they are interconnected. I actually had a greater problem with Nugent’s suicide attempt than the ending. The suicide attempt seemed to me to be unmotivated by anything that happened up to that point and inserted only to have something eventful and surprising happen. Given the suicidal past of his nephew, Murt, it also seems a bit of cheap misdirection.
    The ending, however, is more interesting to me as it says something about the relationship of Eileen to Danny and also how she reacts to uncomfortable conversation with a stranger. Remember that Danny is not her son and his mother is alive and well. Danny has only been living with her, his father, and his step-brother for two years now. She also is 25 and Danny is 14, so she is not really a mother figure at all to him. Yet here is this stranger saying that she must be proud of his talent. Her response – “What else would I be?” – both informs us how she reacts to his statement but also asks a real question. Just what is her relationship to him and how should she feel about him and his talent? It’s very complicated and not at all clear. The story leaves us with this question to consider as it leaves us with the the nature of all of the relationships among the characters to consider. Ending it there served to highlight the importance of considering the question as a real question.

  6. Rosalind January 3, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    At the end of the story, Eileen asks Tom about the writing group that Mert has joined. We been meeting for twelve years, a decent sort of regulars. . Eileen knows Mert a dozen years and they are a group of regulars, who leave the door open for whoever is there.
    Barrett has a gift for describing people that come alive with an authentic humanity. I didn’t have any problem with the ending, I got what Barrett delivered.

  7. William January 6, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    I liked both David’s and Rosalind’s thoughts, particularly David’s use of the word “interconnected”. This is a micro-society of people who care about each other. Nothing happens, except that we get to see them interact, illustrating their humanity.

    As Rosalind said:
    “Barrett has a gift for describing people that come alive with an authentic humanity”.

    What Rosalind said about the book club — ” they are a group of regulars, who leave the door open for whoever is there” — applies to the wider group of people in the story. I’m tempted t0 ask whether this is a reflection of basic Irish culture, as opposed to the more individualistic U.S culture.

    In contrast to most stories written by Americans, there is a troupe of characters, not just one anxious whining upper-middle class self-involved ego.

    We read a story not long ago about a depressive, written by an American. I think the narrator was the depressed man’s brother. Of course, the depressed person suicides by the end. Here, the depressed person is not treated as a psychiatric diagnosis, but as an individual. That’s why I didn’t have a pro9blem with Nugent trying to kill himself, rather than Murt: these actions are not inevitable, nor are they always explicable.

  8. Greg January 9, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Thanks everybody for exposing me to all the engaging aspects of the story. I appreciate all of your fantastic insight!

    The story resonated with me by how relatable the characters’ emotions are. They are trying to get through life and we can feel their dread. This following passage stood out to me:

    “When they were sixteen, he confessed to a crush on her. She told him that she wanted to stay friends. A few weeks later, he went into the hospital for the first time. Eileen blamed herself, until he eventually wrote a gruellingly detailed e-mail assuring her that she had nothing to do with it, or not more than anything else. She would not have believed him without that qualification.”

    Nevertheless, we also feel their consolations such as in this quote:

    “The best day of your life,” Breedge said, “is the day you realize it’s no longer your own.”

  9. Sean H January 14, 2018 at 5:03 am

    Pretty good comments on this story above. I agree that it’s well-written and literary. The author has some chops. I also agree that the ending is more than a little frustrating. The imposition of the writing group felt a little bit too “meta” (and also one micro-society too many). I’m not sure the emphasis on groups and surrogate families as opposed to individuals pays off. More importantly, it ends with Eileen and a relative stranger, which is fine if it relates to a larger thread, theme, or motif, but it sort of just sits there. Yeah, it ties back to the title, but it deprives the reader of the story’s most interesting character, Murt. Eileen’s relationship with Danny is just far less germane to the story than her relationship with Murt, so it feels like a let down, a subplot that never had much momentum getting the last word.

  10. Greg January 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    I agree Sean with your analysis of the ending….Thank you for sharing!

  11. Ken January 20, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    This strikes me as part of a novel and I’m surprised no one above had that impression. I liked this very much to the point where I want to keep going and I want to read more about every character. I read this twice, which I don’t usually do, and the effortless and knowing evocation of community and the challenges of being near those we love are beautifully handled. I’m going to buy his story collection “Skins” after reading this. There’s a great line in Hal Hartley’s film Trust “A family’s like a loaded gun, be careful which way you point it” which this reminded me. It also made me think of Hartley’s early films in that they also capture a sense of intelligent but working class characters who are somewhat dissatisfied, ruminate, drink and form a sort of odd community, except in Hartley’s films there’s usually an element of crime and violence missing here.

  12. Greg January 20, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks Ken for that great Hal Hartley line….I have always thought that unconsciously….so, now I have a simile to go by…..which I will never forget.

  13. David January 20, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Ken, your film quotation reminded me of this one from the novel The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick by Morley Torgov: “My family’s like a closet full of wire hangers. Every time you reach for one, you get a whole armful, all tangled up.”

  14. ann September 30, 2018 at 8:20 am

    I was also captivated by the writing style and had to read it twice to get a handle on the characters. Is it about running to support the most needy friend/relative (Murt) while taking others (Danny) for granted??

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