Mothers and Sons
There are a few writers who manage to put forth an entire history in just one small gesture. I’d say Jhumpa Lahiri is one of them – and Colm Tóibín. I mention her specifically simply because their short stories seem to cover similar ground: vignettes of ordinary people’s lives – no flash, no bang, just this melancholic, understated genuineness and a vague sense that it’s almost voyeuristic, almost obscene to peek through the curtains they’ve lifted.
I’ve loved every moment spent with Mr. Tóibín’s stories – and autumn is, to me, the perfect time to enjoy them (I have an odd emotional connection with what I read this time of year – for example, last year it was Kavalier & Clay, in ’09 – The Road…and now this). Anyway, the main theme of this collection is, as the title very obviously suggests, the relationships between mothers and their sons. In each story events are put in motion by one of the parties – but it doesn’t necessarily make them the main characters, what is explored more is the fallout, the way a mother (or a son) is affected by what the other has done. Almost all stories take place in small Irish towns, the kind where everybody knows your name – but that’s as far as the song applies. Every characters has to contend with either neighbourly gossip, or nature (and you have to wonder sometimes which is the more powerful force) or their own mistakes – but at the end of the day it all comes around and mothers and sons still play crucial roles in eachothers’ lives, through whatever means. We have a son trying to pull a Thomas Crown caper and being inadvertently outed by his mother (The use of reason), mothers & sons united, no matter how briefly, through a song (A song, Famous Blue Raincoat), coping with death (Three friends, A long winter), variations on the theme of family duty (The name of the game, A summer job) or alienation (A journey and, again, A summer job) and a reminder that even pedophile priests have mothers (A priest in the family).
Famous Blue Raincoat – which I’m singling out not because it was my favorite (I couldn’t actually pick a favorite) but because it gets its name from one of the Leonard Cohen songs I love the most – features the reminiscences of a mother about her band’s rise and fall in the 70s and her sister’s death, prompted by her son’s desire to transfer their songs from vinyl to CD. This band records a cover of the title song and the way it’s described makes me wish it was real (and, now that I think about it, could have sounded something like this)…but since it’s not – I leave you with the original 😀