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Stay Up With Me: Stories

Stay Up With Me: Stories

3.6 3
by Tom Barbash

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The stories in Tom Barbash's wondrous and evocative collection explore the myriad ways we try to connect with one another and with the sometimes cruel world around us. The newly single mother in "The Break" interferes in her son's love life over his Christmas vacation from college. The anxious young man in "Balloon Night" persists in hosting


The stories in Tom Barbash's wondrous and evocative collection explore the myriad ways we try to connect with one another and with the sometimes cruel world around us. The newly single mother in "The Break" interferes in 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 narrator in "The Women" watches his widowed father become the toast of Manhattan's midlife dating scene, as he struggles to find his own footing in life.

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 writers 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.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this debut collection from novelist Barbash (The Last Good Chance), also author of the best-selling nonfiction On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11: A Story of Loss and Renewal, the characters are as familiar as friends and family members: In "Birthday Girl," a young girl out walking her dog is hit by a car on a dark country road. "The Women" introduces a son who comes to live with his recently widowed father and encounters in a close and personal way the women who pursue his father. Barbash shows a deep empathy for people with unlikable qualities, as seen in "Somebody's Son," in which the targets of a real estate con preying on the elderly come to know their antagonist better than he knows himself. VERDICT This appealing collection reveals a supple writer who draws us in from the start of each new story, with none of the "collection fatigue" one sometimes feels along the way from even the best practitioners of the genre. Highly recommended.—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA
The New York Times Book Review - Clancy Martin
Barbash's characters are lonely, unhappy and at least temporarily ruined. And yet there's something addictive about these stories—like potato chips or a stiff drink. Barbash is a true craftsman who sweats over every sentence, and that artistry makes you want to read the next story…Barbash's stories reminded me of a really good A.A. meeting, one where the old-timers aren't showing off but the people who are genuinely in pain are tearing their hearts out, not giving a damn whether they're going to be judged or loved for it. Such people need to talk, they need to cry, they need to feel sorry for themselves, and Barbash lets them. That takes a lot of courage for a person and a lot of courage for a writer.
Publishers Weekly
The central theme of Barbash’s venture into short fiction is grief: whether because of divorce, disease, or death, his characters all struggle to recover from emotional trauma. This struggle takes many forms: a boy copes with feelings of guilt over his brother’s death as he and his mother separately grieve in “Howling at the Moon”; in “How to Fall,” a girl goes on a skiing trip to overcome a recent breakup; and in the title story, the memory of his parents’ collapsed marriage pollutes a young man’s fraught relationship with a former lover. Barbash (The Last Good Chance) is most interesting, meanwhile, when exploring the psychosexual bonds between parents and children: in “The Women,” for example, a young man whose mother has recently died struggles with his father’s sexual dalliances; a professor confronts his repressed desire when his son starts dating a student from his class in “Her Words”; and in “The Break,” a recently separated mother fixates upon her son’s choice of lovers. Barbash is a strong storyteller who has mastered the architecture of the short story, right down to the tender, subdued prose that delights in sharp details. With a few exceptions, the exemplary craft and tight prose carry satisfying, if familiar, stories. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Sept. 10)
Jess Walter
Stay Up With Me is a superb collection of stories-sophisticated, lyrical and moving, incisive in depicting the emotional connections between parents and children, husbands and wives, strangers and lovers. Tom Barbash is a blazingly good writer.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the thread that binds stories in a collection together, but in the case of STAY UP WITH ME it’s enough to say that each story is very, very good…Barbash seems drawn to characters…who are reeling from freshly broken families or relationships”
San Jose Mercury News
“Barbash makes a strong impression with his first collection of stories… he deploys a keen, incisive wit; consider ‘The Women,’ in which the narrator watches his widowed father connect on the midlife dating scene, even as his own love life fizzles.”
The New York Times
“These stories should come with a warning: They might undo you.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Barbash gives us a wise, infatuating collection that navigates the thorny passages of preoccupation more honestly than any recent fiction. With alarm and empathy, and often an irrepressible urge to laugh, we watch his characters dig their own graves and realize ‘what it feels like to be lost.’”
New York Times Book Review
“Barbash is a true craftsman who sweats over every sentence, and that artistry makes you want to read the next story… These characters…really aren’t like the rest of us, except–and this is the crucial part, this is why Barbash is worth reading–they hurt in precisely the same way we do…”
7x7 Magazine
“The new collection of short stories from Barbash…explores the difficult nature of human connection, whether it’s a young couple holding a party amidst the struggles of their foundering marriage…or a young man having a rough time in the dating world, whose widowed father is having no problems finding love again.”
The Daily Beast
“Fantastic…These Cheever-esque stories all show that Barbash has a sensitive ear towards the subtle ways that relationships are formed and altered, but he’s also not afraid to open a story with a car accident and watch the sparks fly.”
Justin Cronin
“Is there such a thing as the Great American Story Collection? Yes, and this is it.”
Brooklyn Daily Edge
“STAY UP WITH ME is a cohesive compilation of 13 distinct stories, all of which evoke the intricacies of human nature… Altogether, Barbash’s stories present a poignant cast of characters that will resonate with readers.”
Kirkus Reviews
Romantic collapses and mismatches abound, often in all-too-familiar ways, in the debut story collection from Barbash (On Top of the World, 2003, etc.). If Raymond Carver had lived in Manhattan, he might have delivered stories like "The Break," in which a serious author despairs over the low-rent, bosomy waitress her college-age son hooks up with, or "Balloon Night," in which a man tries to cover up for his estranged wife's absence at a party celebrating the Thanksgiving Day parade. (His apartment offers a view of the parade balloons being inflated, hence the title.) The Carver-esque strokes are evident: The clipped style, the bad romantic choices, the sense that the protagonists are victims of self-delusion, a tad too dim to recognize the awfulness of their predicaments. If the approach is derivative, Barbash at least has clear empathy for the many adolescents who inhabit his stories: In "Howling at the Moon," a teenager awkwardly adjusts to his mother's relationship to a wealthy man, the boy calibrating his movements among his possible future stepsiblings, while the boy in "January" takes a certain glee in watching his mother's new boyfriend stumble. Yet each busted-love tale moves to well-worn conclusions, from the foolhardy May-December romance ("Spectator") to the story about a man anxious about one of his students dating his son ("Her Words"). Barbash has a gift for crispness and clarity, and he can be entertaining when he busts out of the upscale dirty-realist groove, as in an epistolary story in which a tennis academy headmaster loses his grip on a star student. But Barbash's attempts to explore class conflict leads to missteps like "Paris," in which a reporter condescends to the poverty-stricken town he reports on, with an ending that's less comeuppance than non sequitur. Graceful but with few surprises.

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Read an Excerpt

Stay Up With Me

By Tom Barbash

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Tom Barbash
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-225812-0

It was her son's second night home for Christmas break, and
the mother had taken him to a pizza place on Columbus Av-
enue called Buongiorno, their favorite. The boy was enjoying
all the attention. The conversation revolved around him and his
friends. He was talking about someone in school who had lost
her mind, a pale, pretty girl who'd been institutionalized and
who sent a scrawled-over copy of The Great Gatsby to a friend of
the boy's. In the margins, she had pointed out all the similarities
between the character's situation and what she believed to be
hers and that of the boy's friend. She had earmarked pages and
scrawled messages. you are gatsby, she wrote on the back of the
book. i am daisy.
The boy's mother pictured the girl in a hospital ward, align-
ing her fortunes with tragic heroines, ripping through the clas-
sics with a pen. At least, the boy's mother thought, the insanity
was literary. They were taking school seriously, she thought, and
she liked that her son seemed to have some compassion for the

2 Stay Up with Me
woman (more than she did; she was simply glad it wasn't he who'd
been the target).
She liked the person he was becoming, liked the way he
treated others. He'd had a girlfriend in the spring and then an-
other over the summer and the mother had liked how he opened
doors for them, how he listened to what they said, and how he
talked of them when they weren't around. Now both of those
were over and done with. She didn't know much about how they'd
ended, only that he'd kept in touch with one and not the other.
From time to time the boy glanced toward the front door of the
restaurant at the hostess station. The hostess smiled over at them.
The boy's mother was getting used to this. Her son had begun to
fill out in the last year, his sophomore year at college, and had be-
come the sort of young man women smiled at, and not only girls
his age. Recently one of the mother's friends saw a picture of him
in a T-shirt and jeans and had said, “Look out.”
The pizza was good and the boy ate a lot of it. The mother
looked over and caught the eye of the hostess. A good ten years
older than the boy, and not what you'd call pretty. Though thin
and busty, she had a somewhat pinched nose and a dull cast to her
eyes. The mother imagined that she often went home with men
she met at the restaurant. The girls the son had dated were smart
and pretty and charming. This woman was not. Her son didn't
seem to notice her but was talking about the coming summer
and how he wanted to travel around Eastern Europe, Romania
maybe, or Hungary. He'd work half the summer and then take off.
He wasn't going to ask for any money, he said. “How's the book
going?” he asked the mother.
She had been writing a book about Hollywood in the 1950s.
She told him about the last three chapters, one on the advent of
television and the other two on the end of the studio system. He

The Break 3
asked good questions, made suggestions. He was funny. He was
her friend.
He left for a moment for the bathroom. The mother watched
the hostess watching her son as he crossed the room, as though he
were a chef's special she was hoping to try. The hostess walked
back toward the kitchen. The mother couldn't see either of them
now. It's nothing, she told herself.
But then she was peering around the partition to see what
was happening. The hostess was lingering eight or ten feet from
the men's room. How incredibly pathetic, the mother thought.
The boy stepped out. She said something. He said some-
thing. Then he was back at the table.
“Should we get dessert?”
“What did that woman say to you?”
“I saw her say something.”
“Oh, you know, How's it going? How's your meal?”
She was acting like a jealous wife, she thought.
“I think she likes you,” the mother said, though not encour-
The boy smiled, then changed the subject.
They stopped at an ice-cream place on the way home, a store
the boy had worked at three summers before. Back home they
watched the second half of Anatomy of a Murder on TV, then the
mother said she was going to sleep. The boy stayed in the family
room to watch more TV.
The mother read for a while. She thought of calling her hus-
band, but then didn't because she would probably bring up the
hostess, then feel ridiculous for doing so. She'd make it a bigger

4 Stay Up with Me
deal than it needed to be. It had been a nice night, she thought.
They'd have a few weeks of these and then he'd be gone again,
and she'd be alone in the house. She liked his company, and lately
she'd been starting to understand that this was the reward for all
the work you did, these years of friendship. You watched them
become the sort of people you wanted to know.
In the middle of the night she heard voices and she wondered
if he'd turned the volume up too loud. She walked back to the
family room. The doors were partially open. She peered in and
there was the hostess, her shirt off and one of her considerable
breasts in her son's mouth. Her son's shirt was off, and his eyes
were closed. The hostess was straddling the boy's lap, her chin
resting atop his head as he nursed and nuzzled.
She stepped back out and closed the door.
“Shit,” she heard the boy say.
The mother was surprised by what she felt then—not em-
barrassed, even for him. She

Excerpted from Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash. Copyright © 2013 Tom Barbash. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Jess Walter

Stay Up With Me is a superb collection of stories-sophisticated, lyrical and moving, incisive in depicting the emotional connections between parents and children, husbands and wives, strangers and lovers. Tom Barbash is a blazingly good writer.”

Meet the Author

Tom Barbash is the author of the award-winning novel The Last Good Chance and the nonfiction book On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, & 9/11: A Story of Loss & Renewal, which was a New York Times bestseller. He currently teaches in the MFA program at California College of the Arts. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and now lives in Marin County.

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Stay Up With Me 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like most short story books, this one had its ups and downs. When it was good, like the first story, it was very good. The story about the two salesmen in upstate New York was very good, too. However the rest, were so-so. Overall, I thought the most of the stories fell into the  very good category. Some of the stories felt a little repetitive. If you like stripped down, real-life stories, this book is worth your time and money. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful collection. The stories are simple but lovely.
anniepageAP More than 1 year ago
Stay Up With Me by Tom Barbash This author has a very different way of writing these short stories that I have never seen. There is one that is all letters to a father,but by the letters you get the hold story. Each are different desire, grief of family lost and confession. Even though they were different way of written I enjoyed each for what they were. Stories of people like us in daily trails and sorrow. .