The Happy-Sad Tales of Tom Barbash

Mother Jones

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“If this was only the start of the darkest part of his life, Timkin marveled at what he’d already been able to make of it.”

Thus concludes Balloon Night, one of the sad yet joyous stories in Stay Up With Me, a new collection out this week from Tom Barbash, former small town reporter turned fiction writer.

Timkin, the protagonist of Balloon Night, faces an onslaught of holiday revelers streaming into his Manhattan apartment for the Thanksgiving blowout party he hosts with his wife every year. Except she left him for good two days ago, with no way to cancel the festivities on such short notice. So he endeavors to drown her absence in booze and friends until, at the climax of the night, the desperate realization that she isn’t coming back sets in with an inexplicable wave of euphoria. “To Amy!” he calls out, toasting the poignancy of his pain.

The characters that populate Barbash’s stories are all hurting—some of them quite badly. But it doesn’t diminish their capacity for wonder. They collide with life, losing siblings and spouses, parents and children. They suffer bad stepfathers and endure the exploits of their sexually active offspring. The magic of the stories comes in the small, transcendent moments when the world crushing in doesn’t seem so bad.

Barbash has published two books previously: the award-winning novel The Last Good Chance, based on the years he spent reporting in upstate New York, and the New York Times bestseller On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, and 9/11, a nonfiction account of the revival of the financial services firm after it lost nearly seven hundred employees in the Twin Towers. He teaches in the MFA program at California College of the Arts and lives in Marin County, Calif.

I caught up with Barbash to ask about class, clueless New Yorkers, and JD Salinger’s lost works.

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The Happy-Sad Tales of Tom Barbash

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