written by Donna Baier Stein
published by Serving House Books
About the book: 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.
The day of her son’s surgery Evelyn sat in the waiting room alone. Her ex was in Tucson with his girlfriend. She’d brought her new phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3, in from the car with her. Leaving behind one tether to the car charger and finding another in her purse.
She pulled the cell out again as soon as Jason left with a nurse.
It was only supposed to take 45 minutes. I’m worried! she wrote.
A comment appeared almost immediately, from Ruth in Rhode Island. She hadn’t seen Ruth in twenty years but they’d caught up recently thanks to Facebook.
Don’t worry! He’ll be fine.
Another comment, this one from a graphic designer she’d worked with, Monica.
What happened? Before you answer me, go ask the receptionist what’s going on. When Bailey had his surgery I bugged the hell out of anybody I could find to get updates.
Evelyn replied quickly.
I just asked her ten minutes ago. She said hand surgery takes a while, not to worry. And that the doctor might have gotten a late start. And @Monica, my son cut his hand washing a glass in the sink. Cut a nerve.
OMG. Give him my love. To you too. © From Monica.
Evelyn looked up when the phone in the receptionist’s office rang.
She logged off and dropped the phone in her pocket. The TV in the waiting room, was too loud and tuned into an inane morning talk show. Evelyn looked again at the receptionist who sat behind a closed glass window talking soundlessly into her headset.
She lifted her cell from her pocket again to log back on to see if anyone else had commented yet. They had:
Sending wishes for a full and speedy recovery. From Diana, a high school classmate back in the Midwest.
She rubbed her forefinger and thumb together, hard. A new habit she’d acquired since the divorce a year ago. A commercial for anti-depressants came on the tv. Primary colors, flowers blooming, an anthropomorphized sun.
Behind the glass window, the receptionist had removed her headphones. Evelyn stood; one pane of the glass window was pulled back. “Is there a problem with the surgery?” Evelyn asked, hands in her pockets.
“No, not at all. I’m sure the delay probably means the doctor had to start the procedure late. But if you’d like, I can call down and ask.”
Evelyn nodded and returned to her seat as the receptionist closed the glass panel and slid the headset on again. In a moment, the panel separating them slid open again. “No problem at all. I know it’s hard to wait when you’re the Mom.” Jason was 27 so the role of Mom was different now. She pulled out her cell again. A second comment:
Good heavens! I will keep you both in my prayers! Philip, a talented musician she’d met through a mutual friend.
Jason’s father should be here, she thought. We should be doing this together. But they weren’t.
In all 36 people sent digital wishes, prayers, reiki in the first fifteen minutes since she’d posted. 23 were friends Evelyn had spent time with in the flesh—former neighbors, work colleagues, long-distance relatives. Eight were friends she’d made through Facebook but never met in person. Five were from strangers, including one in Belgium.
“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
About the author: 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 (www.tiferetjournal.com.) She is also an award-winning copywriter. Her website is www.donnabaierstein.com.