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The Empty Family: Stories Paperback – January 3, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2011: A young woman returning to the small island of her childhood summers; a nephew caring for his dying aunt; two men cautiously discovering love amid a community shrouded in tradition--these are the delicately rendered characters inhabiting Colm Toibin's remarkable collection of short stories, The Empty Family. Toibin artfully constructs the quiet moments in the lives of individuals, examining the unexpected ways in which people become strangers to one another as families fragment, separate, and regenerate in new forms. With a tone that moves seamlessly between fervor and melancholy, Toibin examines the imperfect relationships of parents, children, lovers, and friends, and--with a befitting nod toward Henry James--the meaning of love in its many forms. In The Empty Family, Toibin proves once again that his mastery of language is matched only by his acute understanding of human longing. --Lynette Mong --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Tóibín returns to his native shores from Brooklyn for the bulk of these nine pristine stories, all--save one--contemporary tales of lives haunted by loss, whether it's the legacy of a sexually abusive priest in an already complicated love triangle in "The Pearl Fishers," the long-absent gay son who returns to Dublin from New York to attend to his mother's last moments in "One Minus One," or the aching void that greets an academic's return to a family home on the Irish coast in the wistful title story. Affairs, airports, and deathbeds populate a mature prose that's as tender with descriptions of sexual, often gay, love as it is with the heart's more inexpressible reaches, never more so than in the complex "The Street," where two Pakistanis find love in the repressive backdrop of blue-collar Barcelona only to be met with violence and a curious captivity. These stories go a long way toward establishing Tóibín as heir to William Trevor, with reverberations that show how life encompasses more than the living. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
Top customer reviews
Colm Toibin, in this collection of short fiction, has managed a masterful array of stories, and a collage of characters that unveil with melancholic ardor the pain, loss, and empty hearts of people who have refused, run away from, or been denied love. Love lingers in their lives like an open wound, borne from an encounter decades ago.
Toibin- like with "Brooklyn" and "The Master" - in these works displays deft restraint. His prose is terse and powerful. His characters' pain is the simple product of a series of wrong turns- that combined and compounded into something more. Central to almost every character in these stories is a lack of reconciliation with the past. Toibin's characters are running- from pain, love lost, truth, loneliness, confusion, time.
With each passing decade, the onion adds layers. Toibin gives readers of "The Empty Family" first the mature, ripe onion- followed by a series of glimpses into its core. In this way, the structure of Toibin's stories mimic the rhythm and construction of memory. Nothing is more detailed than now. But the emotion of the past, we cannot escape. The impact of moments, whose importance only grow with age, become more clear, and sometimes painful, in the repeating now. The past emerges to the surface like the first, petite bubbles in a pot of stovetop water that is about to turn over into a violent boil.
Frances, in "Two Women", is in the twilight of her life and career. She is a woman "that did not allow herself to feel pain." Frances, on a trip for work to Ireland, is reminded of her 12-year love affair with a man named Luke. "Besides her career, nothing interested her now except her house and her own mind." But for Frances, like so many characters in these stories, the house and mind are not a place of growth and expansion, but rather of retreat. It is a place Frances goes to hide. She resigns from the vulnerability of love in the familiar and routine machinations of her work. Luke was a big decision in her life that she fumbled; and now it haunts her.
Through the pain and loss that Toibin orchestrates with the touch of a puppeteer in these stories, through the absence of love, we are given perhaps the most powerful testament of its presence. Love ceaselessly beckons through the void. "The Empty Family" unveils, in all its subtle splendors, this tug of war between the safeness and isolation of a life without love versus the allure and vulnerability of one where love is present. Toibin offers us a powerful portrait of the ruinous effects of a hardened heart on the soul; and in so doing, champions the importance of an open and ever mindful heart.
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