Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Tóibín. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tóibín. Show all posts

04 July, 2016

Colm Tóibín and Hannah Tinti

A wonderful discussion between Hannah Tinti and Colm Tóibín about short stories and novels via Symphony Space, Selected Shorts. Colm has a lot of ideas about what a short story is. He quotes Henry James and talks about the "reverse side of the picture."A fiction writer is not a journalist and that the writer needs to "look and look and look." So if you are looking at a press photograph, the fiction writer should look at the person at the edge of the picture and not necessarily take on the story head on but from the side. He gives a great deal of thought to point of view to find that person whose story has not already been told.

Tóibín's website
link to Soundcloud, Selected Shorts

06 April, 2016

Colm Tóibín, "The Empty Family"

I was lucky to attend the Q&A yesterday with Colm Tóibín. He offered many, many insights about imagination, confidence, and psychology of the writing process. The hour went by in a flash. I've been re-reading "The Empty Family." It's a short story in the collection of the same title. Evidently, he wrote it for the Vija Celmins catalog for her exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris. The story evokes a sense of place, almost a placelessness that is important but feels desolate, yet full. The narrator is telling a sibling of Bill's that he or she is "back here." We know there was some tension but we never know exactly what or why. Then it becomes apparent that the narrator spent time at Point Reyes, Marin County, California. And, then back home is another place, Rosslare Harbor, and vicinity, jutting out into another ocean. A telescope viewing out into the ocean is experienced and shared. "It came to me then that the sea is not a pattern, it is a struggle." The story is poetic and needs to be slowly digested line by line.
Rosslare Harbor

28 February, 2016

Colm Tóibín, "Silence"

The first story in Tóibín's collection, The Empty Family: Stories, takes place in the late nineteenth-century. Lady Gregory has had an affair against her husband, Sir William Gregory, older by thirty-five years. He had been a governor in Ceylon. They have a young son Robert who is left behind at home for the duration of the back story which takes up most of the narrative.

The story begins with an entry from The Notebooks of Henry James in which he's made a notation of an event that he might later use for a story. Tóibín takes us backward in time to experience a way in which James might have been given the story.

Lady Gregory has an affair with a poet. She gets away with it. Her much older husband dies. Her son grows up. She has become merely a space filler for fancy dinners and parties because she knows her place. "She was glad, or almost glad, that there would be no more outings that week, that no London hostess had the need for a dowager from Ireland at her table for the moment." And, "it was Lady Gregory's world only in that an extra woman was needed, as people might need an extra carriage or an extra towel in the bathroom." What could be more tragic?

I love how this story shows with such urgency the need people feel for their secrets to simultaneously be known and kept secret. "...the fact that it was not known and publicly understood that she was with him hurt her profoundly, made her experience what existed between them as a kind of emptiness or absence." Her feelings so insignificant because she cannot share them, "Time would pass and their actions and feelings would seem like a shadow of actions and feelings, but less than a shadow in fact, because cast by something that now had no real substance." She is so desperate at times that she has to write on a piece of paper why she should go on living. "She would write out a list and the writing itself would make her smile. Things to live for."

She finally has some relief when she shares bits of her story with Henry James at a dinner party. "Henry James stood up from the table, it gave her a strange sense of satisfaction that she had lodged her secret with him, a secret over-wrapped perhaps, but at least the rudiments of its shape apparent, if not to him then to her, for whom these matters were pressing, urgent and gave meaning to her life."

Gosh, this is a great story. The Empty Family: Stories was published first in 2011. Most of the stories were first published earlier in various journals.

I'm excited to have the opportunity to hear Colm Tóibín speak in a few weeks.