March is a time to celebrate all things Irish. Lakeside Musing will feature an Irish author for Short Story Monday each week this month. Colm Toibin, one of my newest author discoveries, will kick things off with a story from his 2007 collection Mothers and Sons.
"Each of the nine stories in this beautifully written, intensely intimate collection centers on a transformative moment that alters the delicate balance of power between mother and son, or changes the way they perceive each other." (from the jacket)
"The Name of the Game" is the third story in the collection. It opens :
"As she came down the stairs, Nancy glanced at the photograph; she wondered when it would be right to take it down."
A single sentence raises many questions and, within a page or two, we learn that Nancy is newly-widowed, in debt, raising three children, and running a failing family grocery business. The photograph shows George, her late husband, as a teen posing with his mother.
My intent was to choose one of the shorter stories for this post but, by the time I realized "The Name of the Game" was over sixty pages, I was hooked and just had to continue.
As Nancy attempts to provide for her children, she is faced with foreclosure, but manages, through some slightly shadowy methods, to put aside enough cash to open a chip shop next to the grocery. Despite several obstacles and with the help of her 16 year old son, Gerard, the business thrives.
The relationship between mother and son comes into sharper focus at this point. Nancy has high hopes for her son, which includes university study. Gerard, with an obvious talent for numbers, begins to neglect schoolwork and friends as he focuses on the family business. He assumes it is being built so he may eventually take over - just as his father inherited the grocery from his grandmother.
Nancy, however, views the chip shop solely as a means to pay off the inherited debt. Her intention is to sell, as soon as possible, and move the family to Dublin, where they might have a new beginning.
Nancy's sheer determination and the unfolding relationship with her son kept me glued to the story. Of course, the matter is far from resolved by the end, and I find myself still thinking about these characters today. I'm looking forward to making my way through the rest of this collection.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.