Later, at the Bar

Later, at the Bar

by Rebecca Barry

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Overview

Later, at the Bar by Rebecca Barry

Lucy's Tavern is the best kind of small-town bar. It has a good jukebox, a bartender with a generous pour, and it's always open, even in terrible weather. In the raw and beautiful country that makes up Rebecca Barry's fictional landscape, Lucy's is where everyone ends up, whether they mean to or not.

There's the tipsy advice columnist who has a hard time following her own advice, the ex-con who falls for the same woman over and over again, and the soup-maker who tries to drink and cook his way out of romantic despair. Theirs are the kinds of stories about love and life that unfold late in the evening, when people finally share their secret hopes and frailties, because they know you will forgive them, or maybe make out with them for a little while. In this rich and engaging debut, each central character suffers a sobering moment of clarity in which the beauty and sadness of life is revealed. But the character does not cry or mend his ways. Instead he tips back his hat, lights another unfiltered cigarette, and heads across the floor to ask someone to dance.

A poignant exploration of the sometimes tender, sometimes deeply funny ways people try to connect, Later, at the Bar is as warm and inviting as a good shot of whiskey on a cold winter night.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416563402
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/20/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 558,515
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Rebecca Barry is the bestselling author of Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories and Later, at the Bar: A Novel in Stories, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Her nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Magazine, Seventeen, Real Simple, Food and Wine, Saveur, More, O, The Oprah Magazine, Hallmark, and The Best American Travel Writing 2003. Her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Tin House, Ecotone, The Mid-American Review, Best New American Voices 2005, and was shortlisted in Best American Short Stories 2000, 2004, and 2009. She is also a writing coach, and cofounder of the magazine Fresh Dirt.

Read an Excerpt

Lucy's Last Hurrah

That winter there were two snowstorms. The first one was expected. Born in Florida and galvanized by the damp winds of the Pennsylvania mountains, it was strong as a wildcat by the time it reached upstate New York. The YMCA closed early and so did the library. The mayor declared a state of emergency, which it was. There were three head-on collisions on Route 19 and a teenager froze to death after falling into one of the gorges on the north end of town. Hank Stevens, who owned Hank's Diner, couldn't get out of his driveway and had to stay at home with his children. ("No," he said all afternoon. "Daddy cannot go outside and build a fort. Daddy doesn't own snow pants.")

Hank called Bill Kane, who made the soups and burgers at the diner, and told him to stay home. Bill had already assumed Hank would close the diner early because as far as he was concerned his boss was a lazy man who looked for excuses to lose money. But he went to the diner anyway, because it was nicer than his own apartment, and called his ex-girlfriend Trish to see if she needed help shoveling or with anything, really. But when a man answered the phone, Bill hung up and went next door to Lucy's Tavern — which was never closed because Rita, the bartender, lived upstairs — and got blind drunk instead.

The second storm blew in from nowhere a few weeks later, and no one, not even the weather girl on Channel 7, saw it coming. The day started out clear, but by noon the air was heavy and raw, and by four o'clock the sky had turned steel gray. By five, as Hank Stevens, Bill Kane, and the other regulars filed into Lucy's Tavern for happy hour, the snow began to fall.

At seven-thirty, Lucy Beech, the founder of Lucy's Tavern, was awakened from the dream state she'd been in and out of for several days. She heard the windows rattling and saw the snowflakes whirling like madmen. She listened to the wind howling and it sounded familiar, like the melancholy cries of the wolves that used to greet her on the one hundred acres of woodland where she grew up in Alaska. That sound always made her feel at home, and now it seemed as if it was beckoning her, saying get up, come outside, come see this miraculous storm.

Lucy was eighty-two and her bones were tired, but she got out of bed and walked outside wearing only her nightgown and no shoes. Snow hit her face. Cold hurt her teeth. The fierce, bitter wind reminded her of the storms of her youth, and she sat down on a snowbank and waited.

Lucy's obituary appeared several days later next to the police monitor, which reported three DWIs, one burglary, and an arrest of a woman whose cat was "defecating in an annoying manner" on her neighbor's front porch. The obituary was short, as Lucy would have liked it, but it was written by her cousin who lived in Topeka and didn't know her very well. It hardly mentioned the tavern Lucy established, or how — because Lucy loved live music and dancing and understood people who liked longing more than they did love — it became the center of the community.

It didn't talk about Lucy's late partner Suzanne, who died a month before Lucy and was buried in the garden by a slender birch. (Like many women in that town, and perhaps the world over, Lucy fell in love with a handsome woman after years of loving men.) Instead it mentioned Lucy's fine hand at embroidery, her moral upbringing, and her decent sense of community service.

In its own way, the bar Lucy built did service the community. The place itself was nothing special — a narrow room on the first floor of a brick building that had once been an apothecary. It had hardwood floors and mullioned windows, and when Lucy bought it, the floor-to-ceiling apothecary shelves and cabinets were still there, flanking a long beveled mirror and facing a wooden counter, which Lucy decided would make a good bar. She was in her twenties then, an Alaskan fisherwoman with proud cheekbones and long dark hair that she wore in two shiny braids. Rumor had it that she had been so skilled at fishing that she'd once taught an orphaned bear cub to hunt salmon. But she'd given that up to come east with her boyfriend, a noisy, failed actor who wanted to start a dance hall. They bought the storefront next to Hank's Diner, and because it was mostly Lucy who paid for it they called it Lucy's.

Some people said the bar was cursed because Lucy's boyfriend left town with a milliner six months later, leaving Lucy heartbroken and alone, miles away from the Northern lights and the midnight sun and all the things she used to love. But Lucy, who stayed in upstate New York — a place known for its brutal winters and triumphant springs — laughed at this. After all, even salmon swam upstream to spawn. Heartache, to her, coursed through everything — which was as it should be, since people needed it to make them kind.

Over the years Lucy built her bar into an open front parlor full of music and drinking, where bad behavior within reason was perfectly acceptable. She knew how to use both the gun and the baseball bat she kept under the bar by the cash register and she didn't judge her patrons as long as they paid their bills. Although once or twice she may have offered her opinion. "You know, Martin, most of us learn in grade school that saying things like 'I'm so lonely' doesn't impress women," she might have said. And when Hank Stevens sat at the bar saying things about his wife like "You wouldn't complain about the smoke at a strip club the way she does," she might have responded with, "I would if I was seven months pregnant." To her, the bar was like a good wedding, where love, sex, hope, and grief were just in the air and everyone who breathed it in was drunk not just on booze but the smoky haze around them.

So, cursed or not, Lucy's Tavern was the place most people in town came to lick their wounds or someone else's, or to give in to the night and see what would happen. Lucy grew older and her body thickened. Her once nimble feet grew arthritic and gnarled as the roots of the poplars that lined the streets in the center of town. But her skin, which rarely saw the light of day, stayed youthful and high colored even as her dark braids turned gray, then white. The bar aged too — the hardwood floors became seasoned and polished from dancing and fighting. The mirror grew mottled and reflected a softer, more flattering image of the people it faced. Eventually a gallery of stuffed birds — a crow, a turkey, a proud kingfisher — that Lucy's partner Suzanne, an ornithologist, had collected appeared at the top of the bar.

By the time that second snowstorm hit, Lucy had long since turned the bar over to her bartender, Rita. So none of her regulars knew she was quietly freezing to death that night, as they drifted in for happy hour and stayed out until dawn, taking shelter from the snow and the wind that shook the buildings.

Later, when they were at the bar toasting Lucy's life, the regulars said she was in that wind, mingling with the smell of wood smoke and pine. They said she swept over the graveyards and apple orchards, on to Main Street, past the old brick row houses. They said they felt her make her way by Hank's Diner, then by her bar, where she rode in on the icy air that came off of people's jackets and lingered in the clouds of smoke and perfume. She might have been struck, as she often had been when she was running the place herself, by the rough and beautiful ways people carried their loneliness. She might have breathed into the air, touched a cheek. It's all right, she might have said. The heart is right to cry. Oh, darlings, enjoy the night. She might have considered staying, at least until daybreak, but the wind picked up again and pulled her back into the storm.

The morning after the storm, the sun came out and the sky turned a brilliant blue.

"No," Hank Stevens said to his children. "Daddy does not want to go outside. Daddy is going to make a ham sandwich, and then he is going to lie down."

"This fucking town," Bill Kane said, looking at his snow-covered driveway. "No wonder people kill themselves here every winter."

It was Harlin Wilder, delivering Meals on Wheels as part of his community service, who found Lucy in her front yard in her nightgown, stiff and blue and dead, her face tilted upward, her hands tucked neatly beneath her thighs, as if she were waiting for something wonderful to happen.

Copyright © 2007 by Rebecca Barry

Table of Contents

Contents

Lucy's Last Hurrah

Men Shoot Things to Kill Them

Snow Fever

Newspaper Clipping

Love Him, Petaluma

Grace

Not Much Is New Here

How to Save a Wounded Bird

Instructions for a Substitute Bus Driver

Eye. Arm. Leg. Heart.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Rebecca Barry's prose is a delicate, beautiful balance of wit and yearning. She is an artist of the everyday heartbreak, gently moving her brave characters through their lives, watching over them with concern as they (sometimes comically, sometimes tragically) cope with the infinite expressions of desire and longing that ache within their souls. Rebecca Barry catches every moment of their humanity, absolutely forgives them their inherent contradictions and translates their foibles into lovely vignettes, which you will have a difficult time ever forgetting." —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

"There is a kind of magic that happens at the right bar, with the right people, at the right time of night. A certain song comes on the jukebox, the bartender starts to sing, and two people wobble off their stools, lean into each other, and begin to sway. For a moment, it feels like the center of the world. Later, At the Bar is seasoned with characters who live for this kind of magic; who love hard and drink harder. Rebecca Barry skillfully weaves together their stories as if she is making her way through a room full of friends, then finds you a seat at the bar, leans over, and spills all of their secrets. They are full of heartache and hope, and you will want to stay with them, until everyone puts down their drinks and starts to dance." —Hannah Tinti, author of Animal Crackers

"Those down-and-out and never-were, those bushwhacked by want, those haunted by hooch, those pining for an imagined past and about to charge into public square to howl at heaven, these are the men and women who people Later, At the Bar, Rebecca Barry's movingly splendid first novel, a book as much about what mends as what rends. Clearly, Ms. Barry loves our crooked kind, for she's given us story-telling to hope with, page after page of our analogues taking punch after punch at what cheapens and trivializes and corrupts. Here's a novel to press on your pals, your neighbors, even the strangers you bump into on your own way to paradise." —Lee K. Abbott, author of All Things, All at Once: New and Selected Stories

"Rebecca Barry's debut is a sheer delight. These stories are delicate, smart, touching, and hilarious, and they move through the life of a small town the way life moves through us. Barry is a wonderful writer, graceful, quick, and compassionate."

— Roxana Robinson, author of A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories

"[A] marvelous debut work of fiction...Later, At the Bar is funny, fast, and addictive. It is an intoxicating book, beginning to end. Barry's characters are so smart, hilarious, and real that one can't help being utterly seduced by them and what their lives teach us about 'the rough and beautiful ways people carried their loneliness.'...Read this book." —Danielle Trussoni, The New York Times Book Review

Reading Group Guide

Description
Lucy's Tavern is the best kind of small-town bar. It has a good jukebox and a bartender with a generous pour, and it's always open, even in terrible weather. In the raw and beautiful country that makes up Rebecca Barry's fictional landscape, Lucy's is where everyone ends up, whether they mean to or not.
There's the tipsy advice columnist who has a hard time following her own advice, the ex-con who falls for the same woman over and over again, and the soup-maker who tries to drink and cook his way out of romantic despair. Theirs are the kinds of stories about love and life that unfold late in the evening, when people finally share their secret hopes and frailties, because they know you will forgive them, or maybe make out with them for a little while. In this rich and engaging debut, each central character suffers a sobering moment of clarity in which the beauty and sadness of life is revealed. But the character does not cry or mend his ways. Instead he tips back his hat, lights another unfiltered cigarette, and heads across the floor to ask someone to dance.
A poignant exploration of the sometimes tender, sometimes deeply funny ways people try to connect, Later, at the Bar is as warm and inviting as a good shot of whiskey on a cold winter night.
Reading Guide
1. In the opening story, how does the description of the way the regulars imagine the presence of Lucy's spirit in the wind (page 7) establish the significance of Lucy's Tavern?
2. In "Men Shoot Things to Kill Them," Harlin believes that Grace, his new wife, may be cheating on him with Jimmy Slocum, as she has left town with him to go to a bowling tournament. Harlin explains, "The trouble with his new wife...was that she had terrible taste in men" (page 16). Do you think that Harlin is aware of the irony in this statement? Given the details later revealed about Harlin's own transgressions, is he just like Grace's exes who treated her like dirt, or is he different?
3. In "Snow Fever," after missing the chance to have any kind of romantic encounter with Madeline, why does Bill break into Hank's Diner and make soup in the middle of the night? Why does he ignore her when they pass each other on the street during the day?
4. The story titled "Grace" focuses mainly on Grace and Harlin's brief reunion. Besides referring to the character herself, does this story's title have a double meaning? Why do you think this may be the last time that Harlin and Grace "would be together like this" (page 120)?
5. In "Not Much Is New Here," why has Linda made it her profession to give other people advice?
6. In what ways does Linda and Austin's reunion in "Not Much Is New Here" mirror Grace and Harlin's night in the previous story? Are Grace and Linda the same? Are Harlin and Austin? In each situation, how does one final night together clarify the impossibility of their relationships?
7. In two separate instances, we see female characters attempt to save a bird that's been wounded in one way or another. When Janet, Cyrus, and Harlin come upon an injured pair of geese in the middle of the road, Janet shoots the goose suffering from fatal injuries and does everything she can to save its surviving mate (page 34). In the story titled "How to Save a Wounded Bird," Elizabeth Teeter makes two different attempts to save baby birds that her cat has attacked. In each example, what is the symbolism of the birds and the effort made on their behalf? Besides general compassion, why do you think each character does what she does?
8. What do Elizabeth Teeter's trip to the Wildlife Center and Trevor's tragic story teach her?
9. "Instructions for a Substitute Bus Driver" is the only story in the novel that is written in first person. Why do you think the author selected Madeline to be the only character to narrate her own story? What effect did this perspective have on you as a reader?
10. How did you feel when it was revealed in the final story that Harlin passed away?
11. "It was the thing that had always gotten her about Harlin, his relentless hope. It was what kept him from being a bad man, and part of what made him a stupid one" (page 223). Do Grace's feelings about Harlin describe any other characters in Later, at the Bar? What messages about love and life, seen through Grace's perspective, are found in this novel's conclusion?
12. "So, cursed or not, Lucy's Tavern was the place most people in town came to lick their wounds or someone else's, or to give in to the night and see what would happen" (page 6). Lucy's Tavern is at this novel's center. As this passage suggests, it has different purposes for different people. Discuss what Lucy's Tavern means to the various characters that frequent it, such as Harlin, Grace, Linda, Cyrus, Bill, Hank, and Rita.
13. In a novel with a bar as its main setting, alcohol obviously plays a major role. In what ways is drinking shown to be detrimental? How is it portrayed as something that is beneficial?
14. Though the larger narrative connects the characters and events throughout Later, at the Bar, each story can stand alone. Did you have a favorite? Discuss with the group.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Explore your creative writing skills. Write a short story focusing on characters of your choice from Later, at the Bar. Determine where you would insert the story into the novel, and share your story with the group!
2. Rebecca Barry's writing has been widely published in magazines, newspapers, and journals. Find some of her previous work on the internet, and compare her earlier material to Later, at the Bar.
3. What is the Lucy's Tavern in your town? Whether it be a bar, coffee shop, or diner, hold your book club meeting at the local gathering place.

Introduction

Description

Lucy's Tavern is the best kind of small-town bar. It has a good jukebox and a bartender with a generous pour, and it's always open, even in terrible weather. In the raw and beautiful country that makes up Rebecca Barry's fictional landscape, Lucy's is where everyone ends up, whether they mean to or not.

There's the tipsy advice columnist who has a hard time following her own advice, the ex-con who falls for the same woman over and over again, and the soup-maker who tries to drink and cook his way out of romantic despair. Theirs are the kinds of stories about love and life that unfold late in the evening, when people finally share their secret hopes and frailties, because they know you will forgive them, or maybe make out with them for a little while. In this rich and engaging debut, each central character suffers a sobering moment of clarity in which the beauty and sadness of life is revealed. But the character does not cry or mend his ways. Instead he tips back his hat, lights another unfiltered cigarette, and heads across the floor to ask someone to dance.

A poignant exploration of the sometimes tender, sometimes deeply funny ways people try to connect, Later, at the Bar is as warm and inviting as a good shot of whiskey on a cold winter night.

Reading Guide

1. In the opening story, how does the description of the way the regulars imagine the presence of Lucy's spirit in the wind (page 7) establish the significance of Lucy's Tavern?

2. In "Men Shoot Things to Kill Them," Harlin believes that Grace, his new wife, may be cheating on him with Jimmy Slocum, as she has left town with him to go to a bowling tournament. Harlinexplains, "The trouble with his new wife...was that she had terrible taste in men" (page 16). Do you think that Harlin is aware of the irony in this statement? Given the details later revealed about Harlin's own transgressions, is he just like Grace's exes who treated her like dirt, or is he different?

3. In "Snow Fever," after missing the chance to have any kind of romantic encounter with Madeline, why does Bill break into Hank's Diner and make soup in the middle of the night? Why does he ignore her when they pass each other on the street during the day?

4. The story titled "Grace" focuses mainly on Grace and Harlin's brief reunion. Besides referring to the character herself, does this story's title have a double meaning? Why do you think this may be the last time that Harlin and Grace "would be together like this" (page 120)?

5. In "Not Much Is New Here," why has Linda made it her profession to give other people advice?

6. In what ways does Linda and Austin's reunion in "Not Much Is New Here" mirror Grace and Harlin's night in the previous story? Are Grace and Linda the same? Are Harlin and Austin? In each situation, how does one final night together clarify the impossibility of their relationships?

7. In two separate instances, we see female characters attempt to save a bird that's been wounded in one way or another. When Janet, Cyrus, and Harlin come upon an injured pair of geese in the middle of the road, Janet shoots the goose suffering from fatal injuries and does everything she can to save its surviving mate (page 34). In the story titled "How to Save a Wounded Bird," Elizabeth Teeter makes two different attempts to save baby birds that her cat has attacked. In each example, what is the symbolism of the birds and the effort made on their behalf? Besides general compassion, why do you think each character does what she does?

8. What do Elizabeth Teeter's trip to the Wildlife Center and Trevor's tragic story teach her?

9. "Instructions for a Substitute Bus Driver" is the only story in the novel that is written in first person. Why do you think the author selected Madeline to be the only character to narrate her own story? What effect did this perspective have on you as a reader?

10. How did you feel when it was revealed in the final story that Harlin passed away?

11. "It was the thing that had always gotten her about Harlin, his relentless hope. It was what kept him from being a bad man, and part of what made him a stupid one" (page 223). Do Grace's feelings about Harlin describe any other characters in Later, at the Bar? What messages about love and life, seen through Grace's perspective, are found in this novel's conclusion?

12. "So, cursed or not, Lucy's Tavern was the place most people in town came to lick their wounds or someone else's, or to give in to the night and see what would happen" (page 6). Lucy's Tavern is at this novel's center. As this passage suggests, it has different purposes for different people. Discuss what Lucy's Tavern means to the various characters that frequent it, such as Harlin, Grace, Linda, Cyrus, Bill, Hank, and Rita.

13. In a novel with a bar as its main setting, alcohol obviously plays a major role. In what ways is drinking shown to be detrimental? How is it portrayed as something that is beneficial?

14. Though the larger narrative connects the characters and events throughout Later, at the Bar, each story can stand alone. Did you have a favorite? Discuss with the group.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Explore your creative writing skills. Write a short story focusing on characters of your choice from Later, at the Bar. Determine where you would insert the story into the novel, and share your story with the group!

2. Rebecca Barry's writing has been widely published in magazines, newspapers, and journals. Find some of her previous work on the internet, and compare her earlier material to Later, at the Bar.

3. What is the Lucy's Tavern in your town? Whether it be a bar, coffee shop, or diner, hold your book club meeting at the local gathering place.

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Later, at the Bar 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RLoughran More than 1 year ago
Captures the universal experience of local-tavern-fellowship with funny, poignant and quirky particulars. Insightful, humorous, touching, well-written. LATER, AT THE BAR works both as a group of stories and as a loosely woven novel. Memorable and recommended. A seriously good and enjoyable book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago