Monday, March 8, 2010

Short Story Monday: "The Name of the Game" by Colm Toibin

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.


  1. It's very interesting that you've chosen to feature Irish authors this month on Short Story Monday. I've not read too many Irish authors if you exclude Cecelia Ahern, so the authors you feature will be a good place for me to start, I think :)

  2. This sounds like a super story. I too love it when the characters become real people in my head. I'm looking forward to visiting Ireland with you every Monday.

  3. Sounds like a good one, although mother-son stories don't usually catch my attention.
    I like the idea that you're featuring Irish authors this month.

  4. I like the dynamics of the stories- mothers and sons. I might find myself really connecting with some of the characters in this one!

  5. Kals - I'm not familiar with Cecelia Ahern, so thank you for giving me another Irish author to check out!

    Margot - This story was excellent and, being so long, there was more time to get to know the characters. I think we'll have fun visiting Ireland the next few Mondays!

    Carolsnotebook - I generally like reading about relationships of all kinds, and Toibin really gets to the heart of this one...I'm still wondering how it will all turn out!

    Staci - I bet you'd connect with some of these stories. Even with a house full of daughters, these relationships still speak to me.

  6. Colm Toibin is one of my favorite Irish authors but I have not read his short stories yet - thanks for highlighting this one! I have just put Mothers and Sons on my Bookmooch wishlist!

  7. I haven't read any Colm Toibin yet but have several of his book on my TBR including Mothers and Sons. Thanks for the review!

  8. If you´re into Irish literature I would highly recommend ´The Scribner Book of Irish Writing´. Amazing short stories in that anthology, especially the one written by Anne Devlin. Powerful stuff.
    It´s St Patrick´s Day soon :)
    Greetings from Spain.

  9. I didn't realise Tobin had written short stories too - I'll have to look out for those! Will be interested to see what other irish shrot stories you can find.

  10. It's really rare for short story characters to stick with me, so I'm always impressed when that happens. Of course, sixty pages is longer than most, but still!

  11. Booksnyc - Colm Toibin is one of my newest favorites! Not sure whether I'll turn to The Master or Blackwater Lightship next.

    Teddy Rose - Brooklyn is his only novel I've read, but I'm looking forward to others.

    Saray - Thanks for visiting! I just requested The Penguin Book of Irish fiction from my library, but I will definitely check for the Scribner book too.

    Verity - I've got an anthology of Irish fiction that I'll be picking up from the library later today... can't wait to see what's in it!

    Nymeth - It's unusual for a short story to stay with me this long, too... not sure if I can attribute that to length alone though. Toibin is a skilled writer.


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Be sure to check back, I always respond. Due to a recent increase in spam, all comments are moderated.


Related Posts with Thumbnails