Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dear Great Book Guru, Last week I was at Nunzio's Auto Works when a customer came in very excited about a new book he had just read. It was a collection of short stories -EMPTY FAMILY- by Colm Toibin. I'm not a big fan of short stories- I prefer novels or even novellas- but the man was so enthusiastic, I'm considering giving it a try. What do you think? Short Story Shirker

Dear Shirker, First, let's talk about Nunzio- the man is more therapist than mechanic, although indeed an expert mechanic. People come to him filled with auto angst; he placates them, addresses their problems, and quickly gets them back on the road and all the while keeping his shop pristine with fresh paint and plants galore. In addition, it now appears his customers have a strong literary bent: THE EMPTY FAMILY is a wonderful collection of short stories with a common theme of characters searching for happiness within the framework of family. In one of the stories, an elderly movie set designer returns to Ireland for a brief visit; she laments lost loves and strained family ties, all the while imagining how she could have changed outcomes. In another, which apparently is autobiographical, a middle-aged man returns to his mother's Dublin death bed where he finds that despite the passage of many years, his mother is still coolly distant, and he comes to realize that nothing he does will make her love him. My favorite was "Colour of Shadows" in which a young man arranges care for his elderly aunt who raised him and now makes him promise never to visit his mother. Fractured families indeed! House keys play a recurring role in many of the stories. A key to lock family members in and to lock them out comes to symbolize the elusive comfort all Toibin's characters crave.

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