cover image New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families

New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families

Colm Tóibín. Scribner, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4516-6855-1

Through a series of accessible essays, lectures, and reviews that rove from Jane Austen to Brian Moore—many of which appeared in either the London or New York Review of Books— Tóibín explores the ambivalent relationships that many writers of the past few centuries have had with their families. The topics Tóibín (All a Novelist Needs: Essays on Henry James) addresses include the troubled bond between W.B. Yeats and his father, the fate of Thomas Mann’s children, and John Cheever’s alcoholic parenting and sexual hijinks. The book is divided into two sections: “Ireland,” containing chapters about Irish poets, playwrights, and novelists, such as John Synge and Sebastian Barry; and “Elsewhere,” which roves from Jorge Luis Borges to Tennessee Williams. With essays that prove more informative than argumentative, along with useful minibiographies of important authors, Tóibín excels when discussing craft, such as in the opening essay, which compares structural devices in the novels of Jane Austen and Henry James that for some reason necessitate an absent mother. Though chock-full of biographic detail that will interest ardent readers, Tóibín unfortunately resists drawing conclusions from the various case studies. But overall, given their figurative patricidal, matricidal, fratricidal, and infanticidal tendencies, one ought to be thankful not to have a writer in the family. Agent: Peter Straus, Rogers, Coleridge, and White. (June)