Cover image for The last good chance
The last good chance
Barbash, Tom.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Picador USA, 2002.
Physical Description:
440 pages ; 22 cm
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This darkly funny debut is the deftly plotted story of a dying lakeside town and the four characters who must find their way through their own unexpected transformations as they question, What is the price of loyalty, goodness, and love?

Author Notes

Thomas Barbash 's fiction has appeared in Tin House , Story , Virginia Quarterly Review and elsewhere. A Michener Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has also served as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and is the recipient of a Nelson Algren Award. He is also the co-author, with Howard Lutnik, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, of Top of the World (HarperCollins, September 2002). Born and raised in New York, he currently lives in San Francisco.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Lakeland, New York's, golden boy, Jack Lambeau, has come back home with his Ivy League credentials and a plan to revitalize Lakeland's defunct harbor front with a promenade of shops and restaurants to replace the broken-down factories and shacks that dot its dreary landscape. His vision of revitalized Americana is met with enthusiasm by the weary folk of Lakeland, and with his fiancee in tow he relocates from New York City to a farmhouse in his hometown. The project is big news, but Jack's journalist friend, Turner, seems more preoccupied with keeping his eyes pealed for a glimpse of Jack's beautiful fiancee, Anne. The development has also given Harris, Jack's dysfunctional brother, an opportunity to get some work carting abandoned barrels off the job site, but no one is asking what's inside the drums or why the men are working under the cover of night. This novel classically exemplifies the plight of a man caught in the crushing momentum of a potentially dynamic business deal laden with corruption. --Elsa Gaztambide

Publisher's Weekly Review

Barbash shows himself to be a knowing guide to smalltown politics in a first novel with extraordinary empathic reach. Steven Turner is a young journalist exiled at a paper in Lakeland, a decaying port town in rural upstate New York. His best friend, Jack Lambeau, is the Lakeland town planner. An ambitious Ivy League graduate, Lambeau had had difficulty advancing his experimental urban planning ideas in New York City. When Lakeland's mayor, William Hickey, promised him carte blanche for his New Urbanist-style visions, Lambeau agreed to return to his hometown. With evangelical fervor, he tries to revive Lakeland through a glittering lakefront development project. What he doesn't know, and what the mayor does, is that there are tubs of toxic materials illegally dumped under the lakefront. Soon Turner gets wind of this situation. Should he report it and risk shutting down Lambeau's project? Turner's position is complicated by his secret affair with Lambeau's wife, Anne, a painter. The novel shuttles between Lambeau's compromises with the mayor, Turner's ethical dilemma and Anne's creative and spiritual ennui, all explored in clipped, hard-boiled prose with a dash of black humor ("[Turner] banged out his daily like a good soldier and then his Sunday feature, a fluff-puff about a family in the woods who farmed maple syrup for a living. He'd learned everything you could find out about tree sap in the morning and `tapped' it out that evening. This was his life"). This is a taut, intricate vision of ambition, corruption and love in the postindustrial era. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This lengthy first novel probes the greed and corruption surrounding architect Jack Lambeau's plans to restore the small town of Lakeland in upstate New York. Jack's enthusiasm and charisma bring in local and corporate sponsors for his vision of a vacation spot that will also raise the living standards of Lakeland's residents. Jack's gullibility and conceit, however, blind him to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste onto the surrounding farmland. Jack's brother, Harris, becomes involved in the crime, which results in the death of a friend. Steven Turner, Jack's close friend and a news reporter, uncovers the conspiracy, which threatens to destroy the making over of Lakeland. Adding to this intrigue is Jack's wife, Ann, an artist who becomes romantically involved with Turner as publicity regarding the hazardous waste unfolds. When Jack finally begins to see what is happening around him, "it was as if he were seeing a movie of himself onscreen, and the deeper in trouble he got the more he needed to keep watching." A well-paced drama with strong characters, this is suitable for reading in a rocking chair close to your wood stove. Highly recommended for all libraries. David A. Beron, Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Last Good Chance: A Novel By Tom Barbash Picador ISBN: 9780312287962 Last Good Chance part one Homecoming Chapter 1 Dusk set on the sidewalks of Lakeland, New York, and the children roamed free, gathering around parked cars, or squirting water pistols under the Lakeland Theater's gold art-deco marquee. A trio of girls gathered at a pay phone while one talked urgently. On his walk home from the Lakeland bureau of the Syracuse Times Chronicle, Steven Turner watched them with both the affection of nostalgia and a little pity, all made up, same blue eyeliner and lipstick; fourteen-year-old cheekbones hollowed with rouge. Turner wondered what it would be like to grow up here rather than downstate, a dozen blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge. If he'd been one of those boys across the street, strutting beneath a backward baseball cap, hightops unlaced, baggy Orangeman T-shirt hanging to the knees. He might be more resolved now, he thought. He might be married, for instance, to one of those small-town sirens, and he might repair bridges or command a respectable road crew for a living instead of churning out news stories people glanced over at breakfast and then dropped in the trash, or under a dog. Turner remembered the first time he actually saw this, a Doberman puppy at a friend's apartment shitting right over one of his Sunday features. "That-a-boy," Turner had said. "Don't hold back. Show me what you really think." He could convince himself sometimes--because Turner needed to believe this--that what he did was imperative, and that his life up here was as well. He was twenty-eight years old. He was reasonably healthy, though prone to colds in winter because of his bad hours. He was liked and esteemed by most of the people he interviewed and worked with, if invisible to the newspaper's decision makers. He'd managed to make an enemy out of his immediate supervisor (not without cause: Turner told him once to go fuck himself), and while they decided not to fire him, they'd passed him up for the last three promotions. He was an energetic observer, he'd been told, but jealous editors complained he overwrote his articles and lost the purpose (and any news) along the way. "Well, I guess we know about his screwed-up childhood now, but who cares? He's a housing inspector, right? Wasn't this going to be about housing codes?" But tonight, more than for his career, Turner had begun to have concern for his emaciated social life, because it was Friday and there had been a time not so long ago that he'd had company on his Friday nights. He didn't even have a decent beer-drinking partner now that Jack Lambeau had gone into premarital retirement. Turner was on his own. He walked now across the Elm Street Bridge, to the town's thornier east side, where he lived in a peeling-paint rental house that listed noticeably on its flawed foundation. Turner's apartment had two bedrooms, one large and one tiny, a living room, and even a small sunken dining area. The floors slanted slightly. And the amenities were a trifle archaic--the bathroom had only a shallow tub, no shower, and a toilet that tilted worse than the floor. At night the street drummed with sounds from the corner bar. Turner had his windowpinged once with a BB-gun, and several times he'd watched fistfights break out in the street. There was an edginess to this part of Lakeland that both disturbed and intrigued him. It wasn't unheard of to spot a syringe along with the crumpled beer cans at the basketball courts near the old armory where he played pickup games, or to find kids with primary-colored hair, nose rings, and a few tattoos. His furniture was either dilapidated or bohemian, depending on your perspective. Turner took pride in the fact that nothing, not the lavender couch (which came with two stuffed pillows) nor his brass framed bed nor the swollen chartreuse armchair, which he settled peaceably into now, had cost him more than $75. To cut down on clutter he'd recycled a roomful of newspapers and kept only his own stories, which he sorted into loose categories: Rural Crime (there were strange ones--Satanic Possessions, Animal Sacrifices, Shotgun Accidents Involving Grade-Schoolers), Tearjerkers, Governmental Dirt, and Profiles--puffs and slams. He smoked a joint and then read for a while, Gogol's Dead Souls . Friday evening and again this was his date--a dead Russian. After a half hour Turner's phone rang. It was his landlady, Mrs. Willhillen. "Hello, Steven?" She was the only person outside his family who called him by his first name. "You know on Friday afternoons at the Captain's Quarter they have a lovely Polynesian buffet." Her voice was high-pitched and saccharine. The first time she'd called, Turner had thought a friend was playing a joke. He'd responded with a sexual suggestion that Mrs. Willhillen fortunately hadn't comprehended. "Thank you, Mrs. Willhillen." "It's very authentic. Do you like roast pork?" "Very much." "Did you get the pie I left for you?" "I did. It was delicious." "I've made better, to be honest. Well, bye then, Steven." She'd been calling once or twice a week with suggestions: a garage sale, or a church dinner a single boy could take advantage of. They were designed to cheer him, but they had the opposite effect. He decided to go for a walk. He entered a bar. He drank a beer and played a game of pool, which he won on dumb luck. His opponent sunk the eight and then angrily watched the cue ball drop too before glowering at Turner as if it had been his fault. Outside, the street was bathed in fluorescent light that shined off the trucks and souped-up Camaros and Mustangs that swept by. Turner stared at the cars in a slit-eyed rendition of the redneck cool faces that hung out the windows, and he imagined riding that way through the night, spitting Skoal, revving his muscled-up engine at intersections, stopping every once in a while for a tall boy and a few shots of Jaegermeister (the third one of which he'd get on the house), being hauled outside at a quarter past two by a cop he'd know from high school, who'd make him walk a straight line for his freedom. Turner had had only a passing fondness for Bruce Springsteen until he lived in Lakeland, and now all his songs seemed heartbreakingly perceptive. He decided to call a secretary from the college whom he'd met at a bar once. He read her number from a napkin he'd left folded in his wallet. "Kathy?" "Yes?" "It's Turner." Her silence was disheartening. "Turner?" "The reporter. We met at the Saw Mill?" "The Saw Mill? Oh, Turner. Yeah, I remember you. You were supposedto call a while ago." He pictured her doing something else while she spoke to him, cleaning out a drawer perhaps. "Yeah, well, I was wondering, if you weren't doing anything, if you'd want to maybe get a drink later?" "I don't think so. I've got plans." "Well, I just thought I'd take a chance," he said. "How about some time next week?" "Maybe. Give me a call." Of course she had plans, he thought. Friday night for Chrissakes. Who calls someone out of the blue to make plans at eight o'clock on a Friday evening? He thought he'd treat himself to a decent dinner in order to pick up his mood. No fast food. Hardees or Burger King would do him in right now. He'd see a wizened old man in the corner, talking to himself over a ketchupy cheeseburger, and imagine that as his future. He chose Giovanni's Fine Italian Food, where he could eat at the bar and talk to the bartender, Serena, a rough-edged, perpetually tanned woman of twenty-two who lived with a wealthy sporting-goods store owner twice her age, and occasionally, when the sporting-goods store owner was away, had sex with Turner, and shared with him some of her boyfriend's pot. She brought him his plate of spaghetti and his beer. "Nice story about the dog," she said. "You liked it?" He hadn't entirely. A dog had burned its paw on a tarlike substance that had found its way onto on old stretch of farmland. A neighbor had found the dog stumbling up the road and had had the prudence to call the newspaper along with the veterinarian. Turner thought it might eventually be a good story, because there was no reason chemicals should be left out on a farm. He hadn't been able to reach the vetor the owner of the land, however, and the state DEC said it would be a while before they could send anyone out to check up on it. So for now it was, as his editor, Clark, said, "just a dog and a fucked-up foot." "Absolutely," Serena said. "That's really disgusting, someone leaving stuff like that around." She walked down to the other end of the bar where a couple of men had just sat down. She took their orders, began measuring and pouring. Turner loved to watch people who were good at their work, whether they were athletes or dancers or concert pianists. Serena was an exquisite bartender. She sprayed vermouth into a martini glass with what looked like a tiny plant sprayer, and poured a perfect pint of lager without glancing at the glass. She handed them their drinks, listening dutifully while one of them told a joke about lawyers. "Someone's paying those farmers, I'd bet," she said when she returned. "Exxon or someone like that." As he ate his plate of spaghetti, Turner glanced across the restaurant floor at the diners and saw a disconcertingly attractive woman smoothing the veins on the forearm of his friend, Jack Lambeau. Even if he hadn't known who it was--and he knew it was Lambeau's fiancée--he would have known she was from somewhere else, a land where people met on the front steps of museums, or at flea markets, or in bagel lines. She wore a charcoal V-neck sweater with something black and lacy beneath and with the sleeves rolled up near her elbows. Her arms were slender and pale; she'd pulled her auburn hair back from her face in a barrette. A strand or two fell over her eyes and she tossed her head back from time to time to clear them away. He hoped that up close she'd have an unpardonable flaw he couldn't spot from that distance: crossed eyes, gray teeth, an emptiness of expression, something that would enable him to escape hisenvy. But when they'd finished their meal and walked toward him that hope collapsed. Lambeau spotted him and waved. "Hey, Turner. I told you we'd go public. Anne, this is Turner." She smiled at him. She had a long neck and an elegant collarbone. He wanted to run his finger along it. He couldn't think of what to say. He looked away from her as one would from a bright light. Then he thought that was rude, so he looked her in the eyes. They were warm and intelligent. "Nice to finally meet you," Turner said. "Likewise," Anne said. The locks of hair descended again. "You've had quite the buildup." "It's all true, you know," Anne said. "The boxing career and all," Turner said, randomly. "Absolutely," she said, fists raised. She and Lambeau smiled at one another then in a way that made Turner think of the moment after sex. Perhaps they'd done it at the table without him seeing. "Actually, Turner, I tried to call you earlier. We're going to find a place to do some dancing. You want to go make fools of ourselves?" He pictured himself in a corner watching Lambeau wheel his dream woman around the dance floor. There'd be only one fool. "Thanks. But I gotta get up early tomorrow," he said, then added, "I'll take a rain check." "You're working on a Saturday?" "Well, yes--got a few things going on." When they left he felt discourteous, because the invitation had been genuine--Lambeau was trying to include him--and because he wanted to be happy for them. He would be at some point, but for the moment he was absurdly forlorn. He looked at his reflection inthe mirrored side wall. He took off his glasses, messed his hair up a bit. It was pointless. He put his glasses back on. He looked over again and he saw that Serena had been watching him. "No date tonight?" she said. "No, in fact, the women of the world got together, took a vote, and decided I could go another ten years without one. You were there, weren't you?" She smiled at him. "No, I think I was working then." There was no one else at the bar. She was drying glasses with a rag. "Nice-looking woman, huh?" she said. "She's all right." "All right? She's a total babe, Turner." "I guess she's a babe." Serena cleared the bottles and glasses from the other side of the bar, then stacked her checks next to the cash register before returning. "I get off at eleven," she said. "You want to come back and pick me up? Garrett's away for the weekend." "Was it written on my face?" "Nah," she said. "But I'm a good reader." THE LAST GOOD CHANCE. Copyright © 2002 by Tom Barbash. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador USA, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from The Last Good Chance: A Novel by Tom Barbash All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher. Excerpted from The Last Good Chance: A Novel by Tom Barbash All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.