In the tradition of classic short stories by John Cheever and Tobias Wolff, those in Tom Barbash's evocative collection explore the myriad ways we try to connect to one another and to the sometimes cruel world around us. The newly single mother in "The Break" interferes with her son's love life over his Christmas vacation from college. The anxious young man in "Balloon Night" persists in hosting an annual watch-the-Macy's-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade-floats-be-inflated party, while trying to keep the myth of his marriage equally afloat. 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.
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About the Author
Tom Barbash is the author of the award-winning novel, The Last Good Chance, which was was awarded the California Book Award, and the short story collection Stay Up With Me, which was a national bestseller and was nominated for the Folio Prize. His nonfiction book, On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11: A Story of Loss and Renewal, was a New York Times bestseller. His stories and articles have been published in Tin House, McSweeney’s, VQR, and other publications, and have been performed on National Public Radio for their Selected Shorts Series. He currently teaches in the MFA program at California College of the Arts. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and currently lives in Marin County.
Read an Excerpt
Stay Up With Me
By Tom Barbash
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Tom Barbash
All rights reserved.
Chapter THE BREAK
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
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.
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What People are Saying About This
“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.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
A wonderful collection. The stories are simple but lovely.
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. .