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New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
First things first: author Colm Tóibín's New Ways to Kill Your Mother is no lightweight, frothy summer beach read, so be prepared for that. He's an Irish novelist, essayist, journalist, critic, short story writer, playwright, journalist, critic, and, more recently, a poet. Described recently as an "old-fashioned literary man o' war," he is generally regarded by those familiar with his works as having outclassed many at the various literary forms in which he has delved.

Though the title might suggest a manual about matricide, Tóibín's new work is not about the act of murdering one's own mother. The author skillfully delves into the association between the portrayal of family relations in literature and the actual home lives of writers, and it can be as complex as it is absorbing. The title is metaphorical.

The relationship between writers, their chosen occupation and the part that it plays with their families is often like combat. It is to this absorbing topic that author Tóibín turns in his interesting collection of essays on writers and their mothers, fathers and other family members. Early into the book we see these words:

"The novel in English over the nineteenth century is filled with parents whose influence must be evaded or erased to be replaced by figures who operate either literally or figuratively as aunts, both kind and mean, both well-intentioned and duplicitous, both rescuing and destroying. The novel is a form ripe for orphans, or for those whose orphanhood will be all the more powerful for being figurative, or open to the suggestion, both sweet and sour, of surrogate parents."

After an interesting opening section with a look at Jane Austen, Henry James and s bit more, we find Tóibín's work arranged in two parts. In "Ireland", he reflects on the work of W.B. Yeats, Synge, Beckett, Brian Moore, Sebastian Barry and others. He writes about Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, and John Cheever in "Elsewhere," ending that section with some insight into the writings of James Baldwin and Barack Obama:

"James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955, begins: `On the 29th of July, in 1943, my father died.' Baldwin was almost nineteen at the time. Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father, published in 1995, begins also with the death of his father: `A few months after my twenty-first birthday, a stranger called to give me the news.'"

As seen in that passage, the title of this book can be misleading, as Tóibín's essays are quite often concerned with the role of the father as much as the mother.

A good number of the essays found here were originally published in periodicals, including the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Dublin Review, as is noted in the author's acknowledgements in the back of this book.

Colm Tóibín as the essayist reflects a certain asceticism, but he's as crafty a storyteller as Tóibín the novelist. For the reader, his most highly regarded fiction, The Blackwater Lightship,The Master, and The Heather Blazing, generally build up with a slow but sure gathering of events. There becomes a point with his novels that the reader becomes engaged, and it's this skilful cumulative result that makes his novels seem most believable. This reader had admittedly found Tóibín's highly acclaimed Brooklyn to be a "one-dimensional disappointment" when reviewed in 2009, but after reading his latest, it's a compelling thought to give that novel a second look.

Again,New Ways to Kill Your Mother is no simple summer beach read. But when you feel that your brain cells have been almost destroyed by the likes of the 'everyone-is-talking-about-it' Fifty Shades of Drivel series (and apologies if you're a die-hard fan), Colm Tóibín's 5-star book may go a long way to being cathartic, if only for the healing effect it will have on your thinking process.

6/20/2012
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2013
This was a fabulous insight into the family and other relationships that shaped the famous writers discussed. Colm Toibin has a knack of uncovering details that allow the reader to view the writers in a new light. I have visited Drumcliffe Church yard many times to pay homage to W.B.Yeats. After this book I won't be going again!!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2012
This book is an informed and unique view of a variety of writers--- an Idiosyncratic but interesting choice of subjects. Colm Toibin knows what he's talking about; he's done the research and thought long and well about what he's discovered. Not only can he write fiction but also he's a master of intelligent criticism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2013
This collection of essays, by one of today's leading fiction writers, is deightful and insightful in exploring the relationship between writers and their families. If you are interested in the lives of writers, you will surely enjoy this book.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Toibin always entertaining. Everything you always wanted to know about mother fixations and family psychosis but couldn't easily find until now.
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12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2012
This is an interesting work of popular literary criticism. The theme, of the ways writers tax their families and loved ones, is starkly presented. Toibin avoids editorial comment over the often very destructive behavior many of his subjects exhibit; excessive drinking is just simply rampant.

A few essays feel like Toibin is meditating on writers he admires so deeply he can't quite explain it, other than to review their lives with a kind of quiet awe. Roddy Doyle's section is one such essay that made me think that.

The chapter on Yeats made me despise the man and wonder what incredible lies I'd been taught, that he was a genius. His suffering wife is the main subject here and Yeats's "writing" is hardly discussed. The scene that did it was the description of Yeats at a seance asking about ex-girlfriends, in front of his wife. That struck me as puerile.

Actually, this is a major takeaway, one that Toibin would have done well to discuss. Many of these writers are simply immature jerks who graphomaniacally record their every thought. Is that writing? It seems to be but less than it used to be. I could not get over Cheever's or Yeats's antics, doing things like playing off guillable students against each other. These are grown men and supposedly geniuses! They are false idols if ever there were ones. The fact that this rather huge point is not drawn takes away from the book.

the introduction is quite dense and hard to follow, but don't let that put you off. Also, the writers here are "serious" authors; the workmanship of genre and popular authors is not covered here.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2014
The service was perfect but the book was not what I had hoped for. I expected it to be stories by famous writers but it was an analysis of the writers' work. Sorry. I passed it on to the used book store at my branch library...
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