Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin

Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin (2007, a collection of nine short stories)

Irish Short Story Week Year Two
March 11 to July 1

Posts by Participants

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week.   All of the resources you need to participate, including links to 1000s of stories,  is in the Event Resources.   Guests posts are very welcome.

April Prize for a Participant- I am happy to announce that a randomly selected participant in ISSW2 will receive a copy of the Frank O'Connor Prize listed work, Somewhere in Minnesota through the kindness of the author. Orfhlaith Foyle.  If you are a participant in the event please email me to be in the drawing for this wonderful collection of short stories.

The last work I read by Colm Toibin was his wonderful novel, Brooklyn, set in the 1950s about a young woman who moves from Ireland to Brooklyn.  I also read his very different work, which I loved, The Master, about the English years of Henry James.   Toibin has written a lot about Henry James.  I have also posted on  four of his short stories.  Mothers and Sons is the first of two collections of short stories he has published.

There are nine short stories in the collection, some of which have been previously published in literary journals.   I think the best way to post on a collection of short stories is through looking at some of  the individual short stories in the collection.   All of the stories deal with the relationship of an adult male to his mother.   I have already posted on two of the stories in the collection and the final piece in the collection is a novella and I will post on it at some point in the future.   All of these stories are very good.

"The Use of Reason" is almost a study in the banality of evil.  The son in the story is a professional thief and a career criminal since his early teenage years.   His mother is a drunk who trades on her son's reputation as a vicious thug to keep anyone from bothering her.  Where his father might be is anybodies guess.   His brother was killed in the commission of a crime.   The man has pulled of a tremendous robbery of world class proportions.  He has stolen three paintings, one of them a priceless Rembrandt.  The problem is he knows how to dispose of electronics, jewelery, and such but he has no clue what to do with a stolen Rembrandt.  He cannot exactly sell it for ten million in a local pub.  This story is simply brilliant in bringing to life a totally despicable character.  It was fascinating to see how his mind works.  His mother is so proud of him because he does not drink.  He seems to get little pleasure out of life and we can only wonder about the deeper aspects of his relationship with his terrible mother.   

"The Name of the Game"  is about a recently widowed woman with two daughters and a sixteen year old son who was left a house with a grocery store on the first floor and living quarters upstairs.   It is really mortgaged for more than it is now worth and the income from the grocery cannot really service the debt.   She never really managed the money side of the business when her husband was alive and now things are a mess until she starts a fish and chip business and converts the grocery to all cigarettes, beer and wine.   She starts to make really good money and she begins to plan her getaway to a life of anonymous comfort in Dublin, leaving the small town where everyone knows her business. Her sixteen year old son, in school but not interested at all, takes on a keen passion for the business and soon is really helping out and clearly wants to take over the business one day, even though his mother plans to see the business soon.   The really interesting part of this story, it kind of dragged at first for me, was when the business started doing great and when we see the son just needed to find his place in life.  The relationship between mother and son is really brilliantly depicted.

"Famous Blue Raincoat" is a very interesting story about the long term relationships of two sisters in a band.   It has a lot to say about family relationships and life in the music business.

"A Journey" is a about the relationship of a mother to her son born to her, her only child, after twenty years of marriage when he and her husband had given up all hope and truth be told a lot of interest in having a child.   The father seems pretty old and has suffered illnesses that make him an invalid.   Twenty years goes by in just a few paragraphs and the mother is bringing the son back from a seven month stay in a mental hospital, for depression.   This story is tells us a lot about what can happens when children are born late in a marriage.

"Three Friends", unlike any of the other stories, is in part x-rated for its graphic scenes of gay sex.  The story begins at a funeral for mother of Fergus.   We can see how Fergus tries to use sex to drive the pain of this lose from the forefront of his mind.   Of course it only works for a little while.

"A Summer Job" is my favorite story in Mothers and Sons.   The story covers about twenty or so years in the lives of a young man, his grandmother and his mother.   I thought it does a really brilliant job of showing how the young man develops a great love for his grandmother while at the same time he does what he can to establish his independence as he matures.   We see how his mother uses guilt on him to control and direct his actions and attitude.   

Mothers and Son is a really first rate collection of short stories and it is decent of the publisher and author to include a novella.   Toibin has another collection of short stories, The Empty Family, and I hope I will read and post on it during Irish Short Story Week Year Three (hopefully  from March 1 to July 1-I have to come up with a new name for the event by then!)

Do you have a favorite Toibin work?   Have you read any other his other novels?

Mel u

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