Later, at the Bar
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
Reviewed by Stevan Allred
Lucy's Tavern, the
titular bar in Later,
at the Bar,
is situated in an unnamed town in upstate New York, and it is the
quintessential small town bar. The regulars are a ragtag bunch of
locals who drive school buses, read meters, and chase bar room romances
they know are doomed. They are people who "liked longing more than they
did love." They all smoke cigarettes, get drunk almost every night, and
none of them ever breaks off an affair cleanly--they are always leaving
or being left for another man or another woman.
This could be
depressing, but Barry brings a wry sense of humor to her
stories. " . . . [Moneybags] asked them what they were doing over this
way, and Harlin told him they were going to see his wife in a bowling
tournament and maybe shoot out Jimmy Slocum's tires. Moneybags nodded
slowly, like that seemed like a good idea." Barry never stoops to
judging her characters, even when she invites us to laugh at them.
There's a meandering quality to these stories, well-suited to the
drifty lives these characters lead, that keeps them from being as dark
as the material might suggest. It's there in Barry's artfully crafted
language, which sounds as casual as a conversation at a bar, and like
those alcohol-fueled conversations her language sometimes stumbles into
Subtitled "A Novel
in Stories" this collection is held together by
setting, by its preoccupation with romance, and most of all by the
regulars who wander in and out of these stories, sometimes as central
characters, sometimes as mere bystanders. The regulars include Harlin
Wilder, a man who, in one story, roams the town at night in his
bathrobe, half drunk, and has a vision when he looks into the darkened
windows of Lucy's Tavern just before dawn. It's not much of a
vision--Harlin's too drunk for that, and he simply sees the regulars in
the bar, including himself, doing what they always do--but it allows
him that "private, lavender time between night and day when . . .
sometimes, at least for a little while, all is forgiven."
Each of these
stories is a perfectly functioning, self-contained piece
of the larger world of the collection, but calling this "a novel in
stories" raises expectations that linked stories are not likely to
meet. There are real pleasures to be had from paying attention to the
way these stories illuminate each other, but they do not build to a
novelistic climax. The epiphany we come to in the final story is
satisfying in its own terms, but it is not made greater by coming at
the end. A novel as well written as this collection would likely
deliver something at its conclusion that was more firmly rooted in
everything that came before. Instead, the effect is rather like looking
through an old family photo album. We see people grow older, we watch
them couple up and split apart, and the narrative tension in the
collection as a whole is simply that of life moving inexorably forward.
I do not hold Barry accountable for this. In a better world a writer
would not have to market her collection as anything other than the
carefully crafted work it already is.
lives in rural Oregon, halfway between Fisher's Mill and Viola. His
writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Carve,
Mississippi Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, and the anthology I Wanna
Be Sedated: Thirty Writers on Parenting Teen-agers. He was nominated
for a Pushcart prize in 2007.
Publisher: Simon and
Publication Date: May
bio: Rebecca Barry
in upstate New York with her husband and two boys. She has published
non-fiction in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post
Magazine, and Details, and her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares,
Tin House, One Story, and The Best New American Voices, among others.
with Rebecca Barry
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