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Trying to connect in New York

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An excellent new collection of short stories, "Stay Up With Me" (Ecco, $22.99), by Tom Barbash, takes readers to New York to explore how people make connections in a largely hostile world.

Barbash has published his work in "Virginia Quarterly Review" and "McSweeny's" among other publications and has received the highest praise from critics. His pedigree includes training at Syracuse University with Doug Unger and Tobias Wolff, a stint at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and both the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University and the Michener Fellowship.

This collection of 13 stories was written over a 10-year span. Barbash says, "In many ways, the most important writing I've done is my stories. You always hear about of lack of interest in story collections, but I didn't find that to be the case."

Although Barbash now lives in California, he grew up on the Upper East Side of New York City. Most of his stories are set in the area he recalls with a bittersweet fondness. His own aching for home and for the people he has never forgotten lend a realism to his tales.

What he writes about, at core, is the human need to connect. Sometimes it's a mother and son, sometimes a wife and husband, sometimes total strangers, but whoever he describes is trying to find grounding in a harsh world. After a reader finishes several of the stories, his overarching theme of human interconnection is apparent.

Barbash is a sophisticated writer with a polished touch. He focuses on getting the details right, something less skilled storytellers sometimes miss. He understands the most profound messages often come in ordinary guise so he guides his readers through emotional tangles rather than pontificates about deeper meanings. The result is a strong narrative in each story.

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