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The Empty Family: Stories Paperback – January 3, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781439195963
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439195963
  • ASIN: 143919596X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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The nine elegiac stories that make up this exquisite collection feature characters united in their solitude, isolated souls reflecting on their lives and wounds. What unites the stories themselves is the sculpted beauty of Mr. Toibin's prose. Loss and longing are the emotional undercurrents, whether that of an adulterous affair, a gay love story in a repressive society, or the pain of a love affair that reached the end of its natural life but keeps up an afterlife unknown even to its protagonists. Ireland is the home that his characters (try to) escape from or are pulled back to, willingly and not. Other stories are voiced like love letters to the anonymous "you".

Here is one writer who goes from strength to strength; he seems to just get better with each successive work. While the stories may vary in how satisfying one finds each of the narratives, Toibin's precise ability to catch the ebb and flow of his characters thoughts and emotions remains thrillingly constant. A collection worthy of the author of "The Master" and "Brooklyn".
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Format: Hardcover
"When he went upstairs and looked at his old bedroom, he noticed how worn the carpet was, and how the color on the wallpaper had faded. He must, he thought, have noticed this before, but now the room seemed shabby and strange, almost unfamiliar, and not the room he had slept in every night throughout his childhood, with the small desk in the corner where he did his homework."

The Colour of Shadows is my favorite story in this amazing collection of short stories by Irish witer Colm Toibin. As has been written about Toibin before, he is at his most authentic when he is writing about the people and places of Ireland.

This story is heartbreakingly simple: Paul, a gay man, living in Dublin quietly takes over the care of his dying aunt Josie who has raised him. The two are very close (at some level) and have great respect and tenderness for one another. Yet there is one utterance from Josie --near death -- mistaking Paul for a family friend, that momentarily shatters their relationship. Yet the strength of this piece is its simplicity, its quiet style and honest description of the town, the neighbors and his aunt. It never turns into overwrought, confrontational dialogue. The narrator simply tells the tale of deep love marred by the inability of Josie,an otherwise giving and generous person, to understand Paul's homosexuality because of her age and her own upbringing. It is painful, but Paul understands, at some level, that she nevertheless loved him, and took great care of him as a child.
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Format: Hardcover
The nine stories in Colm Tóibín's THE EMPTY FAMILY are set in such locations as Ireland, Spain and the U.S. Their time frames range from 19th-century England to the 1970s through the present day. Though disparate in several ways, these offerings share certain elements. They reflect themes of life, loss and solitude, but more importantly, beautiful writing that tugs at the heart of the reader in ways that words simply cannot describe.

The Irish-born Tóibín is the author of six novels, including THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP, THE MASTER (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and BROOKLYN (winner of the Costa Book Award). He has taught at Stanford, the University of Texas, and Princeton. Whether the setting is Spain, Ireland or the U.S., Tóibín's writing shows a remarkable recognition of history and locale. Reading "One Minus One," he describes a time period when he taught in New York City as "the city was about to enter its last year of innocence." By that brief descriptive passage, Tóibín does far more than establish time. Through the power of literary economy, he describes a moment in history we will never forget.

The title story of the collection is set in California, a coastal locale the narrator treats as a substitute for his Irish homeland. "The Empty Family" reminds us of family, death and home. The narrator understands that home is more than a place; it's life, a combination of experience, objects and family. One can never leave home and family.

Frances Rossiter is the main character in "Two Women." A respected film set designer "almost precisely between seventy-five and eighty," she comes back to Dublin for a movie assignment. Her return brings memories of a long-ago love affair.
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Format: Hardcover
The Empty Family is the latest collection of stories from one of the better fiction writers today, Colm Toibim. Toibim writes in a sometimes dry and clinical fashion, but with this sparse and elegant prose he is somehow able to pull the deepest emotions from his characters, to show them at their most vulnerable and human, even as they fight to mask it. His most recent works, Brooklyn, and his last story collection, Mothers and Sons, were both masterful works.

The Empty Family though falls a little short of its predecessors.

There are some memorable stories here. The opener, `Silence', is a brilliant historical piece about one Lady Gregory, widowed by an elderly husband and abandoned by her true love, who at a dinner party reveals her secret pain to the novelist Henry James as an idea a for a novel. In `Two Women', a rude and domineering set designer is humbled in a surprise encounter with a former rival. `The New Spain' shows us an exile who comes home to post-Franco Spain to find a country, and a family, she doesn't recognize. These first two especially show Toibim's mastery of hidden pain. The last delves into loneliness, also a recurrent theme here.

But there are a few duds this time around. `The Empty Family' requires another reading to decipher, if one would only want to. `Barcelona, 1975' seems to be primarily about sex. (And this is something to be aware of if you haven't read Mothers and Sons: Toibim sometimes likes to get graphic.)

Still, though it's not perfect, Toibim is always worthwhile. But If you haven't read him before, I would start with one of his earlier works, like The Master, Brooklyn, or Mothers and Sons.
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