Friday, April 4, 2008

Review: After Hours at the Almost Home

Summary: It’s Super Bowl Sunday at the Almost Home Bar and Grill with the hometown Broncos playing for their second championship in a row, and the already busy night is about to get busier. When the bartender walks off, she leaves the remaining staff to the chaos of the night—and with the real question. Not why did she leave but why do they stay? After closing time and on a school night, Colleen’s 14-year-old daughter is no stranger to the Almost Home. She’ll do almost anything to leave, to move her life forward or somehow return to earlier, better times, anywhere but here. But it doesn’t matter; there seems to be no way out.

For one night, we follow all of them as they make their cash, close up, and then linger into the after hours, as they always do, their lives colliding, past and present, in the dark back corner at table 14—drinking, talking, and, now, in the wake of Marna’s absence, facing questions: Where did she go? Will she return? Why do we stay? How dangerous is restaurant love?

Smart, provocative, and flawlessly on target, Tara Yellen’s revealing debut offers keen insights on a group of people left to put the pieces of their own lives back together in the wake of a friend's disappearance. After Hours at the Almost Home will put you in an altered state—it's got kick and goes down like a shot. But its effects might be far more lasting. - unbridled books

AFTER HOURS AT THE ALMOST HOME by Tara Yellen is a special, one-of-a-kind book. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I read the book's description, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book is a little different than what I normally read because it is deeply character-driven; however, the writing and story-telling are so good that I found myself wanting to learn more about the workers in the bar.

I found each character more interesting than the next; and the social interactions between them were very entertaining. While I felt so sorry for some of the characters, there was also a lot of humor mixed in with their lives. All of the characters struck me as very real (and very confused), and I appreciated how they all were just doing their best to survive. I liked how the author wove together the characters and their various relationships. I also appreciated how Ms. Yellen was able to write so effectively from each character's perspective.

I especially liked the characters of Colleen and her 14 year-old daughter Lily. I probably felt the most sympathy towards these two characters because their lives were just so tragic to me. Colleen's husband and Lily's father died in an accident leaving them very lost and very alone. Colleen was devastated and unable to properly provide for a teenage daughter. It broke my heart that Lily was forced to hang out in the bar after hours while her mother drank and popped pills.

What I found extremely interesting about this book was that it seemed like none of the bar's workers wanted to leave the bar (except for the one employee who just left with no good-bye.) It was almost as if they were clinging to the bar and their co-workers for some sign of life. There was a sort of inter-dependency on each other that I'm assuming came about from working so closely together. The only other character who didn't seem to be "stuck" in the bar was Lily, the 14 year old girl. She seemed to want to continue moving her life forward no matter what the cost.

As I was reading this book, I kept wondering how in the world Tara Yellen ever came up with the idea for this story. I was so glad to read her "Notes to the Reader" because she explained just that. She started working tables as a way to both make money and meet people. One night at a bar in Denver, one of the regular servers didn't show up -- no one ever saw or heard from her again. Ms. Yellen realized that the people that worked in the bar came and went -- "the faces changed" -- but the relationships remained the same. I think she definitely got that feeling across in this book.

AFTER HOURS AT THE ALMOST HOME, which will be released on April 15th, is Ms. Yellen's first novel. She is an incredibly talented writer, and I have no doubt that we will all be hearing from her again. I know that I will definitely want to read her future books. I was amazed by her beautiful prose and even more so by her perceptiveness into peoples' actions and feelings.

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