Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lucy's Tavern

Rebecca Barry's debut, Later, at the bar, is a novel in stories set in upstate New York - small town upstate New York where driving 45 minutes to a whole different county is an act fraught with significance. Mostly people stay in town and they spend a lot of time at Lucy's. A lot of time. Though it does have a forward trajectory, each of the interconnected stories can stand alone, and, Barry strikes me as first and foremost a short story writer, with that special talent for defining a character in a few quick strokes and delivering a punch without lengthy development. As with all story collections, some work better than others; there were a few times when all I thought was "Gosh, these people are drinking too much." Ultimately, though, I found it an often humorous and genuinely touching look at humans striving for connection and missing the mark in all too familiar ways - another New York Times Notable Book of 2007.

The setting and characters of Barry's book put me in mind of Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter, a much more emotionally wrenching novel that explores the aftermath of a terrible school bus accident in another small town in upstate New York. The climactic scene of this novel is set at the county fair's demolition derby and is a masterpiece of creative writing that reduced (elevated?) my book club to a chorus of omigods and other inarticulate noises. This one came out in 1991 and was made into a critically acclaimed movie in 1997. Don't miss either one.

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