Sunday, June 30, 2013

William Trevor

Some 48 of Trevor's short stories from various earlier volumes are collected in Selected Stories, which is the latest book for my serial reading after short stories by Hemingway and Somerset Maugham.

I'm still early in the volume but certain patterns in the stories are already clear. They deal with ordinary people and their ordinary desperation. They are quiet stories about the disappointments, the betrayals large and small that accompany even the seemingly most insignificant lives.

"The Piano Tuner's Wives," the first story in the collection, relates the revenge the second wife of a blind piano tuner takes on the first wife by revising her husband's picture of the world, robbing him of the tangible memories he has of that first marriage. Another story has an old, tired couple's gay son stand them up for his annual birthday celebration, sending instead his current protege, who manages to betray all of them. A story called "Child's Play" portrays a boy and a girl in what we now call a blended family re-enacting the illicit affair and messy divorces that brought them into the same family until each of the "wronged parties" rights themselves. This meant the children were no longer able to control their own world through their fictional play. This gift was now lost and, the author concludes "Helplessness was their natural state" -- a line that can stand for all of Trevor's characters.

The writing is both closely observed and suggestive, economical and evocative. The characters take on layers of personality in the quick, telling sketches. The stories are literary watercolors, not oils, but satisfying vignettes of lives that scrape by with only the barest glimmer of hope.

I'll have more to say as a I finish more stories.

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