Tag Archives: writers and families

New Ways To Kill Your Mother

So my plan for my LAFPI blog posting today was to recommend the new Colm Tóibín’s book of essays, New Ways to Kill Your Mother. I will get to that in just a minute.

But first, this is a blog about women playwrights, and over on Huffington Post, Eve Ensler wrote a response to the Todd Akin rape comments. You can read it here. Please Eve Ensler, get some sleep.

Now, I want to talk about a man who writes with intelligence instead of a man who speaks with stupidity.

I recently read Tóibín’s new book of essays, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families, and I highly recommend it.

Many of these essays have been published before, but together, they explore the ideas of writers and family both in work and life. For example, the aunts in Jane Austen’s novels had more power than the mothers. Many writers had dominating mothers or strained relationships with their children. How do the power dynamics within families play out in novels and dramas?

In the course of the book, Tóibín explores the work of writers fromIrelandand elsewhere. The list includes Jane Austen, Henry James, W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge, Samuel Beckett, Brian Moore, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle, Hugo Hamilton, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, James Baldwin, and Barack Obama.

As a playwright, I was happy to see several essays on playwrights. In addition to Samuel Beckett, there were essays on Sebastian Barry and Tennessee Williams. I thought the essay on Beckett and his mother could have gone a little deeper into his women plays such as Rockaby and Footfalls. However, I liked that he gave me a whole new way to look at the plays of Williams as well as insight into how an audience reacted to a Sebastian Barry play. Who owns our public figures? The public or the artist?

Reading this book, I also started thinking about the question of privacy. How much of writer’s biography is relevant to the work we are reading? A writer can draw from his or her own life, but does the audience or reader have a right to know about it? How much of an artist’s identity is beyond his or her control? How much are we the result of the savage loving of our families?