The Irish-born, award-winning novelist reconfirms his mastery of the short story.
Tóibín broadened his readership and raised his profile with the exquisitely bittersweet Brooklyn (2009), and this collection is every bit as rich. Befitting an author who straddles cultures (he teaches at Princeton while retaining a home in Dublin), he peoples his stories with characters trying to navigate between different countries, often involving some reconciliation of a past and present. Many of the stories involve homosexual protagonists (engaged in sexual relations more explicit than anything in Brooklyn), with sexual identity practically another country, a boundary to straddle or cross. “The future is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” he writes of the reunion in “The Pearl Fishers” of two men and a woman, friends from school, where the woman didn’t know that the men had a physical relationship before she fell in love with one of them and married him. The story builds to the revelations that have brought them together again with the things that must remain unsaid. Though most of the stories involve family dynamics (as did his Mothers and Sons: Stories, 2007), the narratives underscore “how apart people were…how deeply and singly themselves.” A strong sense of mortality also permeates the stories, as the first-person narrator of the title story meditates on how “I, like anyone else who was born, will be condemned eventually to lie in darkness as long as time lasts.” The last story is the longest and one of the strongest, as the 68 pages of “The Street” find a Pakistani immigrant to Barcelona, brought there in a contemporary form of indentured servitude, learning so much about power, others and himself. It’s a novel’s worth of material compressed into a long story.
Likely to rank with the best story collections of the year.