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
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
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.
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.
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.
“[Tóibín has] the extraordinary gift of making perennial matters of family life feel mesmerizingly new, and of epic significance. . . .”
— National Post
“Tóibín’s genius is that he makes it impossible for us to walk away.”
— New Yorker