Sympathetic People

Published by: Serving House Books
Release Date: December 4, 2013
Pages: 148
ISBN13: 978-0985849580
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Awards & Praise

Iowa Fiction Award Finalist
IndieBook Awards Finalist in Short Fiction


"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

"Stein crafts much more than a short story. She crafts memories. No doubt, readers will find one or two stories that they can really relate to or may even be walking that same road currently. The mark of great fiction is to have readers forget that it is fiction. Our author seems quite gifted at that."
—Devoted Mommy of Three blog

"Donna Baier Stein has an understated, quiet way of capturing the reader's attention; no fuss, no showiness. Each story was engaging and satisfying and they stayed with me and simmered in my mind for several days.  I felt the weight of how great this short story collection is. Fantastic read."
—A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall blog

"This was a startling collection of stories, beautifully painting the quiet dramas of life and showing them in their true significance.  The over-riding theme of Sympathetic People was longing.  That sense of lingering dissatisfaction that prevented people from achieving contentment, the way in which life may not give you what you have hoped for.  I felt that Stein had evoked this vast gamut of emotions very powerfully."
Girl With Her Head in a Book Blog


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. In “Hindsight,” Jessie, a hippie in Lawrence, Kansas, opts for what she assumes is stability in a world of change, only to be brought up short years later when her life veers off its predicted path. “The Secrets of Snakes” reveals the early ruptures in a marriage and a wife’s futile attempts to stop them even as she tries to care for her son’s pet racer. In “The Jewel Box,” a grandmother promises to let her granddaughter know what Heaven is like after she passes and if, in fact, it looks like the Art Deco greenhouse built in St. Louis during the 1904 World’s Fair. And in “Versions,” a newlywed in Plano, Texas, entertains her sometimes angry husband’s first wife and realizes too late what she has given up in choosing him. “The Second Time the Bird Escapes” brings the collection full circle as a woman vies for attention with her husband’s new girlfriend and watches a peacock race across the yard to freedom, its dazzling tail open like an invitation.


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

What follows is by way of explaining what happened last Sunday, when I had more of a brush with sex than I’ve had in the five years since my divorce. What follows may explain my disappointment.

You see, the first man I fell in love with turned out to be gay and hung himself from a tree along Highway 1 in California.

The second left me when I got pregnant. He was much shorter than me but had lovely lips and gentle eyes.

The third seemed promising: great sex, red-gold hair, tall. We met in a magical way. At a certain time on a certain day of the week, we passed each other going opposite directions on the campus of the University of Kansas. This was the sidewalk near the Student Union, which was burned down by hippies in 1972. I may have known one of the people who did it but I’m not positive about that. If it was the person I’m thinking of, he’s now an executive at an insurance company in Florida, with two kids.

Back to how I met #3. When I noticed him walking on campus, near the Student Union, I thought, That guy’s really cute. He usually wore a jean jacket. Gold wire-rimmed eyeglasses, a red gold beard. He may have worn cowboy boots but I’m not sure.

I do remember that #1, the first man I really fell in love with, who turned out to be gay and killed himself, wore wonderful white tennis shoes. He bounced in them as he walked, and his smile spread all the way across his face.

I know it is unfair to reduce these men, all of whom are as wonderful as people can be, meaning they are imperfect, to numbers. The men I’m telling you about are not men I hate, and in fact I probably don’t really hate any men. But sometimes there’s a particular gut reaction I have that can feel like hate, or a neighbor of it, like it did last Sunday.