three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Mothers and SonsIn these nine stories set in contemporary Ireland, Colm Tóibín explores love, loss, alienation, and betrayal in the emotionally charged relationships between mothers and sons. "The Use of Reason" follows a professional thief as his loose-lipped, drunken mother threatens his livelihood. "A Priest in the Family" features a woman’s unexpected reaction to the news that her son, a Catholic priest, has been accused of molesting children. A cash-strapped widow risks destroying her son’s dreams as she struggles to turn her fortunes around in "The Name of the Game." And in the novella "A Long Winter," a young man searches for his missing mother in the frozen Pyrenees.
Scribner. 288 pages. $24. ISBN: 1416534652

Montreal Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"So flawless and unshowy is the language in Mothers and Sons that only on reflection does it sink in how varied the tone is among these stories. Yes, they’re nearly all melancholic, but every shade in the rainbow of melancholy is represented, and the perspective shifts from mother to son to omniscient with no discernible change in authority." Ian McGillis

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"This is not … a collection to share with your loved ones on the second Sunday in May. It is, however, a book to be offered to anyone who savors some of the most accomplished and nuanced soundings contemporary fiction has to offer; the opening portrait of the robber and his mother sets the tone for what is really a stunning series of variations on a theme." Pico Iyer

Toronto Globe and Mail 4 of 5 Stars
"In these fictions, Colm Tóibín manages to combine emotional indeterminacies with sharp dialogue and strong storytelling in a way that makes Mothers and Sons a deeply satisfying and memorable read." Emma Donoghue

London Times (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"’The Name of the Game’ at least has elements of hope, or, if not hope, possibility. Few of the other stories have so much as a breath of either and therein lies my chief complaint, not at the writing, which is stark, but appropriately so, but at the starkness of a world view that finds few redeeming features in the complex business of being alive." Salley Vickers

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"An intense, sometimes gorgeous, often downbeat collection of thematically linked stories. … Many stories are plot-heavy, so the lack of clear resolution becomes frustrating. In some cases, this ambiguity sparks thought, while in others it seems merely unsatisfying." Claude Peck

Observer (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Writing in simple language about complex issues has always been his strength. Although the book is full of death and illness, bereavement and hardship, all of it is expressed with such understatement that it is a surprise just how affecting each story turns out to be." Killian Fox

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"There are some excellent stories in Mothers and Sons and moments of lovely concision and insight, but Toibin at times seems uncomfortable within the confines of the shorter form, unsure how to use limitations as strengths. … It may simply be that the longer canvas suits him best." Patrick Ness

Critical Summary

In his first short-fiction collection, Colm Tóibín takes a compelling look at the ties that bind. There are no Hollywood happy endings here, and some readers may find the lack of resolution exasperating, even depressing. Still, critics praised Tóibín’s graceful, unadorned prose and deft handling of difficult subjects like alcoholism and pedophilia. His incisive style made the stories and characters all the more moving. Some reviewers claimed the stories were uneven, and there was no consensus as to which tale was the strongest.

Also by the Author

The Master (2004): Short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, this fictional biography of Henry James captures the interior life of the writer with subtlety and empathy. Alternately humorous and heartbreaking, Tóibín’s novel may inspire you to dust off that copy of The Portrait of a Lady. ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2004)