Sunday, November 17, 2013

Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash

Stay Up With MeThe stories in Tom Barbash's evocative and often darkly funny collection explore the myriad ways we try to connect to one another and to the sometimes cruel world around us. The newly single mother in "The Break" interferes with her son's love life over his Christmas vacation from college. The anxious young man in "Balloon Night" persists in hosting his and his wife's annual watch-the-Macy's-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-floats-be-inflated party, while trying to keep the myth of his marriage equally afloat. "Somebody's Son," tells the story of a young man guiltily conning an elderly couple out of their home in the Adirondacks, and the young narrator in "The Women" watches his widowed father become the toast of Manhattan's mid-life dating scene, as he struggles to find his own footing.

The characters in Stay Up with Me find new truths when the old ones have given out or shifted course. In the tradition of classic story writer like John Cheever and Tobias Wolff, Barbash laces his narratives with sharp humor, psychological acuity, and pathos, creating deeply resonant and engaging stories that pierce the heart and linger in the imagination.

This was an interesting, literary, short story collection that delves deep into loss and how the human psyche deals with it.

All of these stories have a strong pulse through them, making the reader turn the pages. This is not easy to achieve in stories that really have very little action happening within them. I was never bored and I didn’t have the need to skip any paragraphs. The descriptions are kept to a minimum, which helps to move the plot lines along, and the dialogues sound real and not forced.

My favorite story in the collection has to be “Birthday Girl”. It is about a young woman who runs over another girl and takes her to the hospital, where she imagines herself as part of the girl’s family. It is so cleverly written that it was hard to put down. I think the weakest of the stories has to be “Somebody’s Son”. I just didn’t connect enough with the characters and whatever meaning the author tried to get across didn’t reach me.

If you love literary fiction and short story collections, then this one is for you.

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