Thursday, April 3, 2014

G281 E-Reading Book Review of Sympathetic People by Donna Baier Stein

General Information:

Name of Book: Sympathetic People

ISBN: 9870985849

Publisher: Serving House Books

Year it was published: 2013

Overall theme:

Life comes with beauty and tragedy

Author: Donna Baier Stein

1. Versions 


In first person narrative an anonymous woman is married to a man named Harry. Harry's previous ex-wife forgets to pick up her things, and when the ex-wife by the name of Nina comes to visit, the current wife learns a lot about the ex-wife as well as about herself. 

2. The Secrets of Snakes


In third person narrative Arlene's son Mark is at a summer camp while Arlene agrees to take care of his pet snake who happens to be non-poisonous. While taking care of it, she contemplates her desires as well as being with a man that's not her husband. There is also a possibility that her husband has his own fun.

3. Coming Clean


In first person narrative, an anonymous woman who was having off/on affair with a married man named Todd returns to his office in hopes of rekindling the romance between the two of them.

4. El Nino


Mrs. Grise's marriage is coming apart after the death of her son, and in the story she observes her next door neighbors and how divorce has impacted the children and the parents. The story is told in third person narrative and seems to mix Mrs. Grise's perspective along with that of Albert, the next-door kid.

5. In Heraklion


In third person narrative, Grace along with her best friend come to Crete, to Takis's hotel. There Grace reminisces about the man she's having an affair with named Jay who strings her along, as well as observes the scenery and wonders about Nikos, Takis's son.

6. Lambada


In third person narrative, Corkie Lang and her husband get invited to Naomi's husband birthday party where an interracial couple dance the Lambada. However when an accident occurs at a birthday party, Corkie learns some unpleasant truths about Naomi and herself.

7. The Great Drawing Board of the Sky 


Carolyn is going through a hard time and is obsessed with constellations as well as props for the theater. Carolyn's husband has just left her and her son Timmy has a negative reaction to his surroundings and is obsessed with violence until the fateful day when he lets his emotions loose. Told in third person narrative

8. Hindsight


In first person narrative, the story revolves around two women who happen to be best friends, from 1960s up until 1970s. Jessie is a dreamer of sorts who goes after what she wants, while the woman who is narrating the story seems to be her complete opposite, and Jessie starts to live life with lifelong consequences for both women.

9. Whatever You Want


In third person narrative and in 1969, Rita remembers how she met as well as the affair she had with Hank who killed himself that year. While reminiscing about Hank, Rita begins an affair with Rick who happens to be married.

10. The Jewel Box


In third person narrative, Sarah recounts a special memory she has to her grandmother who happens to be dying, and asks her to let her know whether or not its the same in heaven.

11. The Yogi and the Peacock


Told in first person narrative from a man's point of view who got curious about a meditation pamphlet that he ordered, as well as various misadventures that came because of the pamphlet.

12. The Second Time the Bird Escaped


In third person narrative, Caroline who is desperate to learn about her brother's disease, goes back to Trey with whom she was mistress of and then became his wife before he dropped her for someone else.

13. News Feed


Evelyn in third person narrates the story of how her son ended up in surgery as well as her life on teh social media and what the strangers and so forth mean to her as well as contrast to an Indian man that disappeared.

14.  My Lovers #1-5, or Why I Hate Kenny Rogers


In first person narrative a woman narrates how she ends up being disappointed by men and also talks about the men that have had an impact on her personal life as well as why one of his quotes has a bad impact on her.

Personal Observations:

With few exceptions I couldn't really connect to the short stories. A lot of them, if not all, dealt with loss, cheating, and the stories were incomplete somehow, especially towards the end as if its up to the reader to figure out how they ended. The ones that I did like were #14, #11, #10 and #7. Perhaps if I had more life experience or if I lived longer, I might have connected with the characters, or might have understood the connections a whole lot more. Besides the themes I mentioned, there didn't seem to be any other links with the stories, aside from #11 and #12 with the mention of a peacock, and #10 that has description of colors. From going over, I also suspect that the stories might have biographical or autobiographical theme, especially since perhaps a large majority of them deal with cheating. There is also year connection so to speak between 8 and 9.


Both the beauty and frailty of human connections are seen in the thirteen stories collected in Sympathetic People. Here are women and men struggling to find love, meaning, happiness in marriage, adulterous affairs, art, meditation, and even the passage from life to death. Longing generated by loss is everywhere--in the death of a son, the end of a marriage, the slide from hope ignited by Neil Armstrong’s moon walk to hopelessness after President Kennedy’s death. 

Book Blurbs: 

"Donna Baier Stein is a discovery. Her deceptively mild story-telling veers swiftly into the savage but often unacknowledged discontent of suburban life - wives struggling with marital disappointment and missed opportunities, celebrating and often betrayed by unexpected friendships - all explored with language that engages and surprises."
- C. Michael Curtis, Fiction Editor, The Atlantic

"Ms. Baier Stein's stories are powerful in both language and character . . . she balances a fierce wish to love and be loved with the hard reality of loss and failure, yet the yearning does not diminish. A profound accomplishment."
- Elizabeth Cox, author of The Slow Moon, The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love

"Donna Baier Stein uncovers the sometimes heady glint of danger in relationships in a brilliantly edgy collection of stories that gets under your skin as even as it illuminates love, lust - and everything in between."
--Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow

"Donna Baier Stein writes with the grace and precision of a poet . . . here is a writer who trusts not only herself, but her readers, who will be skillfully guided into coming to their own satisfying conclusions."
--Elizabeth Berg, New York Times bestselling author, most recently of Tapestry of Fortunes

Author Info:
Donna Baier Stein’s writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Kansas Quarterly, New York Stories, Prairie Schooner, Washingtonian, many other journals and anthologies from Simon & Schuster and The Spirit That Moves us Press. Her short story collection was a Finalist in the Iowa Fiction Awards and will be published, as Sympathetic People, in 2013 by Serving House Books. She has received the PEN/New England Discovery Award for Fiction, a Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars Fellowship, Bread Loaf Scholarship, a grant from the New Jersey Council of the Arts, prizes from the Poetry Council of Virginia, two Pushcart nominations, and an Honorable Mention in the 2013 Allen E. Ginsberg Poetry Awards. Her poetry chapbook Sometimes You Sense the Difference was published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press. One of her stories was performed by Tony-award winning actress Maryann Plunkett at Playwrights Theatre in Madison, NJ. Donna was a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and founded and currently publishes Tiferet: A Journal of Spiritual Literature ( She is also an award-winning copywriter. Her website is
Links to social media: 

Quick Notes: This is for Sage's Book Tour

3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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