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Dine with Tara Laskowski’s new book BYSTANDERS

bystanders coverBystanders is the new book from Tara Laskowksi and the Santa Fe Writers Project. Jennifer Egan called the book “a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills.” Jen Michalski said Laskowski’s writing is “deceptively cozy,” noting that her stories are scarier than readers realize until they’re in too deep.

Here Tara Laskowski provides the meal pairings and settings with which to dine while reading Bystanders and going deeper into the stories.

The Witness

Menu: Pierogies, haluski, stuffed peppers, sometimes lasagna. Basically every carb-heavy dish involving potatoes, meat and/or cheese. Washed down with soda poured from a two-liter bottle into filmy glasses, no ice.

Setting: Every Sunday at your grandmother’s house, after Mass, a routine so defined sometimes you want to scream, sometimes you see yourself hovering above, outside, wishing for escape. Sometime before dessert, your grandfather will wander in, tossing obscenities at your grandmother, who will then threaten to kill him. To push him down the stairs and laugh when his neck breaks.


There’s Someone Behind You

Setting: Your apartment

Menu: Orange chicken and pork fried rice, eaten directly out of the cardboard take-out containers with a plastic fork. Served slightly cold because you were waiting for your boyfriend to get to your place. Pair with a gin and tonic, watered down, drunk fast, which you can repeat twice, because he texted too late he can’t get away from the wife and he’s sorry, he’ll pay you back, eat his, too. And so you do.


The Monitor

Setting: Your townhouse

Menu: Spaghetti-Os. Serve over the stove still in the pot and eat with a large plastic stirring spoon because you have five minutes before the baby starts crying again.


Happy and Humpy

Menu: You guys always get pizza from the back road on Fridays, a large, half with mushrooms and onion and half with pineapple and ham. Remember to ask for extra pineapple because they never put enough on it.

Setting: Your house. When the delivery guy rings the doorbell, wait for your husband to look up surprised and say, “They’re here already?” no matter how long it actually took them.


The Cat Sitter

Setting: Some really cool part of the city, really too cool for you but whatevs.

Menu: Oh shit you ordered the sushi anyway because you thought it would impress your date and now here it is on a long rectangular plate and the colors are all weird and what the hell is half of this stuff? Is it even edible? Don’t cry, for god’s sake just don’t cry it’ll be fine just sip the sake and pop the edamame and maybe your date will think you’re just one of those people that never eats in public.


Half the Distance to the Goal Line

Setting: Your high school reunion

Menu: Jeff Feinstein pulls out a handle of Captain Morgan because you guys used to drink Captain and coke like it was water back in the day. Remember that night we sat on the floor of Marcy’s basement, drunk as Patty’s old man, chewing saltines and then blowing the cracker dust out of our lips like confetti? Man, those were the days. But the rum tastes way too sweet now and you can’t believe you drank enough of it back then to fill a swimming pool and christ, when will this reunion be over so you can drive home and watch House of Cards with your husband who makes his own bitters and tonic?


The Oregon Trail

Setting: A campground somewhere in the southwest, which isn’t very rustic by most people’s vote but which you feel is seriously roughing it.

Menu: A charred hot dog that you dropped on the ground, but you’re eating it anyway because no one saw you drop it. Topped with mayo because you forgot to pack the mustard.


Other People’s Houses

Setting: Your in-laws’ house

Menu: Hamburger Helper served on fine china. Grape juice for you while everyone else gets wine. Not because you are pregnant, but because his mom hopes you might be.



Menu: TV dinner with apple crumb dessert

Setting: Your living room, on the couch with a tray table, watching an old Columbo.



Setting: Your favorite outdoor café on an early spring day, when the weather is unseasonably warm.

Menu: A chocolate and peanut butter crepe with whipped cream. The whipped cream is so delightful at this particular place, and when you get a little dab of it on your nose, look up to find a napkin to wipe it off and notice someone across the street, just a glimpse of a woman coming out of the TJ Maxx, hunched over slightly, that short curled set hairdo older women have, and think for just a split second that it’s your grandmother—feel that jolt of electricity run through your neck and the backs of your shoulders—but no, it couldn’t be. She’s been dead for fifteen years. Try to finish the crepe, but it now seems so sickeningly sweet and besides the sun hides behind the clouds and now you are chilly.



Menu: Bourbon, straight.

Setting: Cozied up to a bar, any bar, thinking bitter thoughts about your family.


Every Now and Then

Menu: Hard shell crabs

Setting: The beach. The back porch of your rental, when the sun is low in the sky and casts harsh light across the table. There’s only the crunch of shell, the sucking of meat until your fingers are sore. Neither you nor your husband say a word. You wonder what he’s thinking but are afraid to ask.


Death Wish

Setting: TGI Fridays. Your first date with some dude from online, and you’ve got a new shiny shirt from Forever 21 that you drip strawberry sauce on. Contemplating: Do I really like him? Is this better than being alone?

Menu: Fancy frozen drinks that will later make you sick, that now make you giddy and a bit too loud, and after the third one, as he’s waving for the check, you think simultaneously that you’d rather be home alone and you probably talk too much about your grandparents.


Tara Laskowski grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and now navigates traffic in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. She is the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012) and the forthcoming Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project 2016). Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She was awarded the Kathy Fish Fellowship from SmokeLong Quarterly in 2009, and won the grand prize for the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Series. Since 2010, she has been the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. She and her husband, writer Art Taylor, write the column Long Story Short at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Tara earned a BA in English with a minor in writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Web site:



Adam Robinson
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About The Author

Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson lives in Atlanta and runs Publishing Genius Press. He is the author of two poetry collections, Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say Poem.

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