Lucy's Tavern is the best kind of small-town bar. It has a good jukebox, a bartender with a generous pour, and it's always open, even in terrible weather. In the raw and beautiful country that makes up Rebecca Barry's fictional landscape, Lucy's is where everyone ends up, whether they mean to or not.
There's the tipsy advice columnist who has a hard time following her own advice, the ex-con who falls for the same woman over and over again, and the soup-maker who tries to drink and cook his way out of romantic despair. Theirs are the kinds of stories about love and life that unfold late in the evening, when people finally share their secret hopes and frailties, because they know you will forgive them, or maybe make out with them for a little while. In this rich and engaging debut, each central character suffers a sobering moment of clarity in which the beauty and sadness of life is revealed. But the character does not cry or mend his ways. Instead he tips back his hat, lights another unfiltered cigarette, and heads across the floor to ask someone to dance.
A poignant exploration of the sometimes tender, sometimes deeply funny ways people try to connect, Later, at the Bar is as warm and inviting as a good shot of whiskey on a cold winter night.
The 10 linked stories of Barry's first-rate debut capture the idiosyncrasies of an upstate New York backwater where social life revolves around Lucy's Tavern, founded by the late Lucy Beech, who "loved live music and dancing and understood people who liked longing more than they did love." There, a limited pool of regulars drinks nightly, has the kind of revolving recreational sex that creates complications for decades, and ruins its children: "You watch a kid like Ruby Plumadore, whose clothes never fit and who smells like cigarettes... get off the bus and... subtly gird herself to walk into her front door." There's Harlin Wilder and his twin brother, Cyrus, who are in and out of work, hung up on ex-wives and waiting for the next woman to roll into their lives when they're not drinking or getting into fights. Linda Hartley, an advice columnist for adolescent mag Sugar and Spice and for Woman Today, battles her own demons; while Harlin's ex-, Grace Meyers, still has good things to say about him. The situations are familiar, but Barry gets down to the grit of her characters and captures the plangency of a local bar that serves as de facto communal household.