“Stay Up With Me” Tom Barbash (Simon and Schuster) – short stories

Stay Up with Me Tom Barbash book coverTwelve individual stories, each featuring different characters and a loose theme of the difficulty of letting go and moving on. In the title story, Henry and Alice have an on-off relationship. Henry knows he is stagnating but can’t bring himself to leave Alice until he realises that he is using his father as an excuse to stay in New York and he is free to make the decision to either move on or stay. In another a husband throws a traditional party, pretending to both himself and his guests that his wife is merely on a business trip, not about to file for divorce. A mother struggles with her now adult son’s choice of girlfriend. A widower throws himself with gusto into the dating scene watched by his son who doesn’t want to emerge from his grief, yet. A journalist writes up a story that reinforces the image of a townsfolk as backwoods dimwits. He’s proud of the story because he finally feels he’s written something worthwhile but goes back to be confronted by the townsfolk who blame him until a passionate speech suggesting this should galvanise them into action, not leave them inertial and accepting of the status quo. In another a teacher writes letters to a pupil’s father showing a complete lack of self-awareness and inability to realise that what he thinks is for the best may not be what the father or pupil think is for the best.

Tom Barbash’s style is spare and lyrical. His choice of words are incisive and designed to keep the story moving and the reader hooked. The situations are recognisable but relayed from a character’s viewpoint which makes them unpredictable. Each character is faced with a dilemma caused by a lapse of judgement, facing a loss, a change of fortune or discovering love. The characters are engaging and stay in the reader’s memory after the story has been read. “Stay Up With Me” is both bittersweet and engaging.

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