By Tom Barbash
ECCO, $9.93, 209 pages
Stay Up With Me is a collection of short stories by author Tom Barbash. This anthology consists of thirteen stories, each with different characters whose story lines are independent of the others. Most deal with heartbreak and rebuilding from Lou, a young man dealing with his brother’s death and his introduction to a new family, to Jen, a woman trying to find a new course for herself after a tragic breakup.
“Dead and alive is what’s killing me. It’s breaking my heart.”
All the stories in this collection see their main characters in wretched situations – family deaths, broken friendships, divorces, new step-parents, and drifting children. Despite these depressing story lines, Barbash doesn’t ever let the reader feel too hopeless or bogged down. His writing and attention to weird details and humanistic qualities will leave the reader feeling connected to the characters, even if they’ve never been in those exact situations. The hard questions these stories address (Can we ever change? Does anything last? Is there ever a happy ending?) are never answered, but then again, that is probably the point. The experience of reading a short story collection like this is unique and refreshing. Unlike some collections that represent a gathering of different authors and even genres, Stay Up With Me is written entirely by the same author with a focus on creating a coherent piece. The reader never has time to become dulled by any one story line, seeing that each lasts only about twenty pages. Plus, the diversity is never so wide that it stretches the reader too much; the stories are crafted so that you slide into each one with ease. Barbash has constructed a piece that is well-written and diverse, yet connected and well worth reading.
Reviewed by Lara Carvin