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THE EMPTY FAMILY – “Waves Miles Out”

December 22, 2010

The Empty Family

by Colm Tόibίn

Scribner

$24, 276 pages

The first story purports to be background on a Henry James piece. Henry James? “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.” I liked the idea of a contemporary writer transcending neighborhood tiffs (as with Ann Beattie’s stories) and linking me back to the world of college literature.

In the second story Tόibίn writes: “The sight of waves miles out, their dutiful and frenetic solitude, their dull indifference to their fate, made me want to cry out…. It came to me then that the sea is not a pattern, it is a struggle. Nothing matters against the fact of this. The waves were like people battling out there, full of consciousness and will and destiny and an abiding sense of their own beauty.”

Those are nice words but then I begi to wonder who would ever publish this directionless story of homesickness? Yet someone did, and this whole collection. Was it because Tόibίn is a professor at Princeton? Because, like Joyce, he’s Irish? Because he has a whole bunch of other books published? As an oft rejected writer I got really angry. That is until I read the next two stories that deliver in dramatic form on those sentiments.

“One Minus One” is about the death of the author’s mother six years earlier, and filled with nuanced complexities of family relationships I have never seen confronted so honestly in or out of books. With “The New Spain” the family theme is stretched to include ten year political changes in that country as a daughter in exile returns to her grandmother’s estate. Intriguing. Subtle. Flawless.

Colm Tόibίn, Henry James would have been proud to know you.

Order this book directly from amazon for $14.15. Click: The Empty Family: Stories

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