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Later, at the Bar

Rebecca Barry

 

" 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 them.. "

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 beauty.

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.



Stevan Allred 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PublisherSimon and Schuster

Publication Date: May 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?: Yes

Author bio: Rebecca Barry lives 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.

Read an interview  with Rebecca Barry

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