Sunday, September 29, 2013


Authentic, heartrending, perceptive, tender, all of these words apply to Stay Up With Me: Stories by Tom Barbash.  He’s an amazing author, one who is able to capture a life in as little as 20 pages.  He chooses details with restraint and strength, each revealing another facet of a character.  All of the players in his stunning collection are known to us.  Why?  Because we share with them times of grief, disappointment and loss.

For instance in The Break a mother recently separated from her husband welcomes their son home from college for Christmas break.  And best of all worlds “She liked the person he was becoming, liked the way he treated others.”  What she did not like, in fact, resented abhorred was his choice of lovers.  She does not know how to handle the situation.  Calls to her husband for advice are futile - he only reminds her that their son has his own life to live.  Slowly, painfully we watch her try to control the young man’s life, choose a proper partner for him.

With “Balloon Night” we meet Timkin who lives in a “three-bedroom eighth-floor apartment, on West Seventy-Seventh Street between Central Park West and Columbus.”  That’s a choice location, is it not?  The apartment is where Timkin grew up, it was given to him by his parents a few years back, and the block it is on is called the balloon block.  An apt name because that is where the humongous characters in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are inflated the night before.  Naturally, that’s quite a sight to see so residents welcome one and all to their apartments to enjoy.  Timkin had gone to his first balloon party when he was just six years old.

He is especially proud of the party he and his wife Amy host on Thanksgiving Eve; it is a night of celebration lasting well into the morning hours.  They see old friends they have not seen since the last party as well as strangers who wander in.  It is the day of the party and Amy had left him earlier that week.  He had been too depressed to tell anyone.  Guests will be arriving in a few hours - how can Timkin explain Amy’s absence?

Tom Barbash is a writer to celebrate.  His prose is tight yet never constricted.  All of his characters are fully defined, made human.  Of his 13 stories I cannot possibly choose a favorite - each one is stellar.

- Gail Cooke

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