[Reading Room] The Women by Tom Barbash

At the start of “The Women” the narrator and his newly-widowed father are attending “holiday parties” dictated by the season. It is immediately clear that Andrew, the son, is unhappy with his father’s behavior but rather than baldly state this fact, the author makes Andrew’s feelings plain by showing us not what he thinks as much as what he is noticing.

The narrative style is clever: self-aware first person. Andrew is telling us, the readers, this story in a careful way, as anyone would: trying not to make himself look bad, but bursting all the same to show us his outrage.

“Before long the women were dropping by our house, and I’d see them late at night drinking coffee in my mother’s kitchen…”

But this is not just the sob story of a young man left doubly orphaned by his mother’s death and his father’s actions after it. The story moves on through the first year of his grieving, of his new life. By the following winter, things have started to change for Andrew.

This is a skillfully told story peopled by some engaging characters — and some realistically flawed. It will stay with me for a long time.

You can find it in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2011 and it was originally published in narrativemagazine.com

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