If you'd like to step away from the bustle of the city and belly up to a small town bar with the regulars for a few hours, Rebecca Barry's new novel in stories, Later, at the Bar, is your ticket out of Dodge. On one hand you'll be comfortable at Lucy's Tavern, which sits in the middle of a sleepy downtown street in upstate New York, because everyone knows your name and nobody passes harsh judgment. But you'll likely come to a point in the evening where you'll wish the bartender was just as careful with cutting people off as she is with her witty observations and sassy comebacks.
Lonesome regulars like Bill and Hank work at the diner next door and are impossibly pathetic with women. Smartly dressed Linda writes advice columns for local newspapers, and bounces from one relationship to another so quickly she can't even stop to listen to her own advice. And rowdy brothers Harlin and Cyrus have alternately been married and divorced to the same women, or thrown in jail so many times, nobody bothers keeping track.
Interestingly, as the stories unfold, you find out that most of the townspeople are in their 30's, even though they drink and act like they are well into advanced middle age. Barry means for the characters to seem loveable and familiar, as they haplessly wobble through life, but more sensitive readers will find them to be empty and pitiful. And it becomes increasingly tedious and sad to watch as they all choose a drink (or 10) over any chance at love or stability.
In a story called "Love Him, Petaluma," Linda suggests healthy ways for a reader to distract herself from a broken heart, like exercising and making a list of things she loves about herself. Yet later that same evening, Linda gets so drunk she easily justifies sleeping with the man who broke her heart, even as a new loving boyfriend waits for her call. Another story called "Eye. Arm. Leg. Heart" describes the final drunken goodbye between Grace and Harlin, former spouses, where Grace concludes, "Say what you will about drunks, but no one will love you like they can."
Overall I feel that Later, at the Bar is not worth the reader's time, and there are many other books out there that deal with substance abuse in small towns with more compassion and appropriate humor. Especially for readers who have watched a loved one deteriorate because of alcohol or drug addiction, this book will only remind you that there is really nothing funny about being an alcoholic.