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Mothers and Sons

Mothers and Sons

3.2 6
by Colm Toibin

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Each of the nine stories in this beautifully written, intensely intimate collection centers on a transformative moment that alters the delicate balance of power between mother and son, or changes the way they perceive one another. With exquisite grace and eloquence, Tóibín writes of men and women bound by convention, by unspoken emotions, by the stronghold of the past


Each of the nine stories in this beautifully written, intensely intimate collection centers on a transformative moment that alters the delicate balance of power between mother and son, or changes the way they perceive one another. With exquisite grace and eloquence, Tóibín writes of men and women bound by convention, by unspoken emotions, by the stronghold of the past. Many are trapped in lives they would not choose again, if they ever chose at all.

A man buries his mother and converts his grief to desire in one night. A famous singer captivates an audience, yet cannot beguile her own estranged son. And in "A Long Winter," Colm Tóibín's finest piece of fiction to date, a young man searches for his mother in the snow-covered mountains where she has sought escape from the husband who controls and confines her.

Winner of numerous awards for his fifth novel, The Master -- including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award -- Tóibín brings to this stunning first collection an acute understanding of human frailty and longing. These are haunting, profoundly moving stories by a writer who is himself a master.

Editorial Reviews

Pico Iyer
The short story is a craftsman’s form, and Toibin’s craft is immaculate. Not many writers in Britain and Ireland are working at this level of intensity and seriousness, with not a slack sentence in 270 pages and nothing shoddy or easily sardonic throughout. The short story also seems an ideal form for a writer much more interested in emotion, and the slow exposing of a character, than in action or community.
— The New York Times
Jeff Turrentine
Though he's not above gently tugging at heartstrings, he seems more interested in mapping the silent, awkward distance between his characters than in celebrating any sort of mystical connection. Like moons, the sons in this collection are caught in the powerful orbits of the women who birthed them; they spin and shine with what looks like self-determination, but they know they can never travel too far without being pulled back in.
— The Washington Post
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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The mothers and sons in Toibin's superlative first collection resist the changes wrought by transformative events. With precise and poignant detail, Toibin, twice short-listed for the Booker Prize (for The Blackwater Lightship and The Master), reveals how they try to normalize their respective situations. In "A Priest in the Family," a mother, after learning of a heinous crime her son committed, forces herself to drink scalding tea to prove to herself that she could face anything. After a renowned singer performs a song for an audience that includes her estranged son ("A Song"), he immediately leaves, motivated by a desire to prove to himself the insignificance of the act. In "A Long Winter," Toibin's best and longest effort in the collection, a depressed mother unexpectedly walks off from her home and gets caught in a blizzard that marks the beginning of a tempestuous winter. The story traces her husband's and son's thoughts and habits while they wait for the spring thaw. Even though they and the reader know the mother's fate early, Toibin is able to craft a painfully unequivocal denouement. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/06.]-David Doerrer, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Constraints and conflicts bred by family relations are vigorously dramatized in this first story collection from the Booker-nominated Dublin author (The Master, 2004, etc.). In six brief stories and three longer ones, T-ib'n presents a many-colored gallery of related souls, nowhere more arrestingly than in "The Use of Reason." Narrated by an amoral career criminal-who has expanded his reach and complicated the problem of fencing his ill-gotten gains, by stealing a valuable Rembrandt-it's an icy portrayal of a "bad son" whose implacable brutality extends to threatening his alcoholic, loose-tongued mother ("I'll take action against you if I hear another word"). Elsewhere, T-ib'n develops the volume's binding theme, tenuously in the story of a former band singer whose son's discovery of her old records triggers painful memories ("Famous Blue Raincoat"); more persuasively in the similar tale ("A Song") of a working musician who attends a performance by the songstress mother who had abandoned him, years earlier, and in two stories ("A Journey," "A Summer Job") that contrast maternal self-sacrifice with spousal and filial exploitation and indifference. T-ib'n's range is best demonstrated in the sexual abuse story "A Priest in the Family" and in two moving novellas: the story of a hardworking widow's efforts to rebuild her family's fortunes, and her heartless son's indifference to her sacrifices ("The Name of the Game"); and a beautiful tale of filial grief, sexual hunger and hard-won acceptance of mutability and loss, set in the Spanish Pyrenees ("A Long Winter"). Characterization, dialogue, controlled narrative and scenic description are expertly blended throughout, often to stunning emotionaleffect. They're grand storytellers, these Irish, and when he's at his best, Mrs. T-ib'n's boy Colm is the equal of any of them. Agent: Peter Straus/Rogers, Coleridge & White, Ltd.
From the Publisher
"It's truly remarkable that a writer of Toibin's great felicity, immense seriousness and general large awareness — a writer so naturally gifted as a novelist — can deliver short stories of such subtle empathy and brilliance. He's dazzling."
— Richard Ford

"Tóibín is a writer of extraordinary emotional clarity....These are beautiful stories, beautifully crafted."

Literary Review (uk)

"Tóibín is a subtle, intelligent and deeply felt writer."

The Guardian

Product Details

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.37(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
3 Months

Read an Excerpt

On the Monday, when the others had gone to the hotel for lunch, Fergus stayed alone with his mother’s body in the funeral parlour. She would, he knew, have so far enjoyed her own funeral. The hush of conversation with old friends, the conjuring up of memories, the arrival of people she would not have seen for years, all of this would have put a gleam into her eyes. But she would not, he thought, have enjoyed being alone now in the shadowy candlelight with her son, all the life gone out of her. She was not enjoying herself now, he thought.

He was tempted to whisper to her some words of comfort, to say that she would be all right, that she was at peace. He stood up and looked at her. Her dead face had none of her live face’s softness. He hoped some day he would be able to forget what she looked like as she lay inert in her coffin, with faint traces of an old distress behind the mask of stillness and peace and immobility. The undertakers or the nurses who had laid her out had made her chin seem firmer and more settled, almost pointed at the end with strange creases. If she spoke now, he knew, her old chin would come back, her old voice, her old smile. But that was all gone now; anyone seeing her for the first time would never know her. She was beyond knowing, he thought, and suddenly realized that he was going to cry.

When he heard the noise of feet outside, a man’s heavy shoes against the concrete, he felt almost surprised that someone should come now to break his vigil with her. He had been sitting there as though the door were closed and he could not be disturbed.

The man who appeared was middle-aged and tall; he walked with a slight stoop. He had a mild, modest look; Fergus was sure that he had never seen him before. He paid no attention to Fergus as he moved towards the coffin with a stiff reverence, blessing himself, and then reaching down gently to touch the dead woman’s forehead. He had the look of someone from the town, not a neighbour, Fergus felt, but someone she must have known years earlier. Being on display like this, being touched by anyone who came, would, he knew, have horrified his mother, but she had only a few more hours of it before the coffin would be closed and taken to the cathedral.

The man sat down beside him, still watching his mother’s face, gazing at it as though waiting for it to do something in the flickering candlelight. Fergus almost smiled to himself at the idea of telling the man that there was no point in looking at her so intensely, she was dead. The man turned to him as he blessed himself again and offered his large hand and his open-faced sympathy.

‘I’m very sorry for your trouble.’

‘Thank you,’ Fergus replied. ‘It was very good of you to come.’

‘She’s very peaceful,’ the man said.

‘She is,’ Fergus replied.

‘She was a great lady,’ the man said.

Fergus nodded. He knew that the man would now have to wait for at least ten minutes before he could decently go. He wished that he would introduce himself or give some clue about his identity. They sat in silence looking at the coffin.

As the time elapsed, it seemed odd to Fergus that no one else came. The others surely would have finished at the hotel; his mother’s friends had come all morning, and some relatives. It made no sense that all of them had left this gap for Fergus and a stranger to sit so uneasily beside each other for so long. This stretch of time appeared to Fergus to belong to a dark dream which took them out of all familiar elements into a place of dim, shimmering lights, uncomfortable silence, the unending, dull and neutral realm of the dead. As the man cleared his throat, Fergus glanced at him and saw in his dry skin and his pale face further evidence that these minutes did not belong to ordinary time, that they both had been dragged away by his mother’s spirit into a place of shadows.

Meet the Author

Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary, and Nora Webster, as well as two story collections. Three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.

Brief Biography

Dublin, Ireland
Date of Birth:
May 30, 1955
Place of Birth:
Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland
St. Peter's College, Wexford; University College, Dublin, B.A. in English and history

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Mothers and Sons 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DonnaJoldersma More than 1 year ago
This is not what I expected and never finished the book.
Charles_Ray More than 1 year ago
Mothers and Sons is a collection of short stories by Colm Toibin that range from the mundane to the bizarre. The stories are not all to my liking, but those that are keep me riveted to my seat. This is a great book for those long air plane trips if you, like me, find it hard to sleep and you've already seen all the movies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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! Tóibín finds unique lines of communication among his characters, some with words, others with quiescent descriptors, and the flow of his use of the English language peppered with bits and pieces of both Irish culture and Spanish concepts (in 'The Long Winter') is lyrical, pungent and abundantly enriching to read. His mind is fertile and his style of writing is full of grace and feeling. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp