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The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
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Sep 28, 11

The Power of Colm Tóibín's Prose

THE EMPTY ROOM is a priceless collection of short stories from the brilliant author Colm Tóibín. It could be easily said that once hooked on Tóibín's writing the bond is permanent. This exquisite collection is a series of indecisive moments in the lives of folk who are well into middle life, shackled between remembered emotion and the inevitable aging tranquility that is their future. He creates a panorama of characters about whom we come to know and with whom we empathize, but at the same time these created people are laid out on the near-necropsy postmortem table for us to touch and examine and step away.

The nine stories included in this volume include 'Silence', a story transplanted to another time in which a Lady Gregory, an abandoned widow who has lost her recent lover, has a peppery dinner conversation with Henry James. In 'The New Spain', 'exiles return to bury loved ones, and ruminate on what other past associates might be up to. A Leftist dissident from Franco's Spain comes back home to a cool reception at the family villa in Menorca.' 'The Pearl Fishers' is a "grim, almost plotless thriller with gay subplots" and "overwrought and graphically violent screenplays." Our hero is invited to have dinner with a married couple, a man named Donnacha and a woman named Grainne, both of whom he has known since they were at school together decades earlier. The two boys (as they were then) were lovers before Donnacha linked up with the fiery, strong-willed Grainne, a religious reformer who has gained some notoriety by insisting "that she and other like-minded lay people represented the true Catholic Church more than the bishops and priests."

Much of what we read in The Empty Family is Tóibín's apparent obsessive interest in 'the principal torments available to the educated, Left-leaning, upwardly mobile, male baby boomer in middle age. The men and women who brought us up, and bustled us off to the good schools they never got to attend, will weaken and die, and our professional success won't help them or us deal with that.' For this reader the most compelling story is the very genteel love story represented in 'The Street' - a tale of Pakistani immigrants in Barcelona who somehow survive the threat of being outsiders and in the case of Malik and Abdul discover their same sex needs and find some fulfillment despite the narrow confines of living in a hostile world.

Colm Tóibín is a Master Craftsman, a wordsmith without peer, and everything he touches radiates a magic that only he is capable of transforming ordinary lives into extraordinary experiences for the reader. This, then, is literary genius.

Grady Harp

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