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Mothers and Sons: Stories Paperback – January 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The nine stories in Mothers and Sons examine in depth some of the ways that the bond that is forged--or not--between mothers and their sons is altered, re-formed, or broken forever. In The Master, his fictionalized life of Henry James, Toíbín made the reader see and understand the writer more fully than ever before. Similarly, these new stories look at relationships between fully formed adults and, with a few deft strokes, make clear what their mutual history has brought them to. In most cases, they must deal with loss, while trying to grasp the complexities of that sometimes precarious balance between a mother and her son.

In the first story, "The Use of Reason," a lifelong burglar is nearly brought down by his mother, who talks too much when she drinks in her local pub. In "A Song," Noel, on the town with a group of his musician friends, ends up in the same bar as his estranged mother, who is asked to sing. She sings an Irish ballad about love and treachery and he is convinced that she is singing directly to him. In "A Priest in the Family," Molly's son Frank is accused of abuse, but no one has the courage to tell her until it is almost time for the trial. Her reaction is not entirely predictable. "Three Friends" takes place after a young man attends his mother's funeral. He joins his friends for a night of carousing and drugs ending with a late-night swim, where he is emboldened to make an overt sexual pass at one of his buddies, with interesting results. The final story, "A Long Winter," is set in Spain in a remote village. Miquel's mother drinks. Everyone knows it but Miquel. His father pours out her supply of booze and she leaves the house. So far it's a simple story. It doesn't stay that way. Each of these stories has its own gravitas, its own sadness, and that laser-beam of insight that is Toíbín's trademark. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Though not a grand storyteller or a consummate imitator of various voices and cadences, Gerard Doyle's introspective and masterful reading of most of Tóibín's short stories is nearly perfect. Doyle's assured voice fits Tóibín's characters, who think more than they act, fail to communicate with those closest to them and prefer their own company to that of others. There is little dialogue since people feel they can confide in no one, even their own mother or son. Doyle phrases the stories carefully in order to highlight the rich nuances and stark lighting and scenery. The stories end abruptly, with the characters on the verge of, rather than at the end of, some transformative experience. Therefore, the extra long pauses between stories are welcome. Unfortunately, Doyle loses some of his power in the last story, "A Long Winter," which is set in Spain, but in which, oddly, Doyle affects a Slavic accent. Nevertheless, Tóibín's consummate writing skills are not to be missed by lovers of serious literature. Simultaneous release with Scribner hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 16).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (January 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416534660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416534662
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colm Toibin is the author of four previous novels, The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, and The Blackwater Lightship, which was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of our most intensely refined and challenging writers of the day, Colm Tóibín presents a new set of nine short stories correlated by the theme and title of mothers and sons, stories that mine the always fascinating relationship between mothers and sons, both positive and negative sides. This is writing of such apparent simplicity that the craftsmanship of his work is taken for granted - the mark of a truly fine writer. Here is a collection of stories to be read slowly, allowing time to digest each experience fully before moving on to the next.

'The Use of Reason' explores a son's theft of valuable art and the consequences of his actions result in a confrontation with his alcoholic mother that supercedes the criminal act. In the brief 'The Song' a young musician almost mistakenly hears his miscreant mother singing a ballad that should erase years of desertion just as in 'Famous Blue Raincoat' the son discovers songs his mother recorded with her hippie sister before disaster struck the drug-impacted band. In 'The Name of the Game' a mother attempts to recover the errors of her deceased husband in making a life for her son, unknowingly at odds with her son's true needs and goals. A mother faces the infamy of her priest son when his history of sexual abuse surfaces in 'A Priest in the Family', and in 'A Summer Job' the devotion of a son to his grandmother overshadows his relationship to his mother. In 'Three Friends' and 'A Long Winter' Tóibín delicately and with subtle sensitivity introduces same sex themes to embroider stories of strong and powerful tales. For this reader 'A Long Winter' (the longest of the stories) is so excellent it could be stretched into an entire novel!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There's little doubt that Irish culture holds in considerable regard the ability to tell an absorbing tale. The country's literature boasts a rich tradition of compelling short story writers --- among them James Joyce, Frank O'Connor and the modern master, William Trevor. Fresh from his acclaimed novel of the life of Henry James, THE MASTER, Colm Tóibín, in his first collection of short fiction, shows that he has the talent to someday join their august company.

MOTHERS AND SONS recognizes that perhaps no other family relationship is more fraught with the tension between intimacy and distance than this one. In the thematically linked stories of this collection, all but one of which are set in modern-day Ireland, Tóibín chooses to emphasize the circumstances that isolate mothers and sons and the failures of communication that often make it impossible to bridge that gap.

The stories in MOTHERS AND SONS don't feature much in the way of dramatic action and tend to be somewhat monochromatic in their tone and pacing. What Tóibín offers that more than compensates for these shortcomings is his gift for sharp and often painful glimpses into the lives of characters struggling to deal with the harsh reality life has handed them. Typical of these insights is the one that appears at the conclusion of "A Journey," the shortest story in the collection. There, Sally contemplates the grim scene that confronts her when she returns home with her 20-year-old son who's been hospitalized for depression, and enters the bedroom where her husband lies crippled from a stroke.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on December 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Colm Toibin is an Irish novelist who explores the theme of people not wanting to being known, even to themselves. As author of five novels (including "The Heather Blazing" and "The Master"), this is his first book of short stories and it continues his theme of alienation. The writing is brilliant and descriptive with his tales set in Ireland and Spain (where he lived in Barcelona for a time). The reader will not find a happy resolution in these stories but of mothers and sons not connecting, not reaching out to the other. His characters are fascinating and diverse but not heroic on a interpersonal basis. The reader will read these tales over nine nights but not in one sitting.
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Beverley Strong on March 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I realise that I'll undoubtedly be shot down in flames for daring to criticize this book but I must be true to my own feelings on it, as must any honest reviewer. This is a collection of short stories, set mainly in Ireland and with that overlying sadness that seems inevitable in Irish tales. The relationships between the mothers and sons are all different but all have an unbreakable link between them that survives, even when things are at their worst. Other reviewers have listed the stories in detail...the drug fueled rave, following the mother's funeral, the blind love which excuses the paedophilic priest etc. so I won't rehash them. Admittedly the writing is that of a master craftsman, polished to perfection and as precise as the work of a great artist, but I simply didn't enjoy the book, feeling a great cloud of depression fall over me..perhaps it's just that the Irish melancholy got too much for me!
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