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Mothers and Sons: Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 2, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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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

From Publishers Weekly

Nine stories from the author of The Master, The Blackwater Lightship and three other novels explore what happens when mothers and sons confront one another as adults. The sons include a middle-aged petty criminal, a young alienated pub musician and a regular guy whose drug-fueled mourning takes him into new sexual territory. The mothers include a widow who married above her class, a woman whose son's depression hangs over her and her husband's lives and a woman whose son is a priest being charged with abuse. In "The Name of the Game," the widowed Nancy Sheridan finds herself saddled with three children and a debt-ridden supermarket. In "Famous Blue Raincoat," former–folk-rock sensation-turned-smalltime-photographer Lisa is distressed by her son Luke's interest in her band, but refuses to tread on his curiousity, which forces her to reconfront the band's painful end. Longing, frustrated expectations and an offhandedly gorgeous Ireland run steadily throughout—except in the concluding, near-novella-length "A Long Winter," set in a Spanish village, and featuring Miguel, his younger brother, Jordi, and their mother, whose drinking may not be the only secret Miguel discovers during preparations for Jordi's departure for his military service. Wistful, touching and complex, these stories form a panoramic portrait of loss. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416534652
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416534655
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,844 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Two stories in this book, The Long Winter and Three Friends, are reason enough to read through the rest of this rather bleak and poignant collection. A certain thematic relentlessness is probably inherent in a book of short stories, if only because rather than hiding out in a longer work, an author's obsessions divulge themselves again and again once character and setting are no longer the central concern.

This is certainly the case in Mothers and Sons, where the characters' refusal to exit their own orbs and connect with one another, where the dead bodies don't turn up and the mysteries of their deaths are never solved, is sometimes maddening, sometimes enlightening and almost always sad. Perhaps singling out The Long Winter and Three Friends, the two stories in the book where the characters are able to take refuge in a ramshackle semblance of intimacy, is to miss some darker point; all the same, there is something quite moving in the awkward tenderness of these two stories- both of which involve a mother's death and a son's taking comfort with another man- which gives the booka depth and complexity it would lack without them. These are hardly what one would call romantic stories- in fact, there is a not so subtle desperation at work, a stong sense of pity and escape, in both the encounters- but without them, Mothers and Sons might just be too easy an invitation to despair. Still and all, a highly recommended book by a thoughtful, interesting writer.
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