The benefit of a successful writing career is that without producing anything new, your work continues to be published. Mark Twain’s autobiography presently occupies the fourth spot on Amazon’s top 100 selling books. Not bad for a writer who died 100 years ago. William Trevor is very much alive and has four O. Henry Prizes, three Whitbread Prizes, and the recognition as “the greatest living writer of short stories in the English Language” to his credit. His accomplishments are even greater when you consider that he did not begin serious writing until he was in his 30s.
"For Trevor, it’s not all about what has changed but what has remained the same. These stories are told in simple yet beautiful prose and are timeless."
SELECTED STORIES gathers 48 pieces from Trevor’s last four collections. This one serves as a second volume to THE COLLECTED STORIES, published in 1992. These current selections focus on life using humor and realism. Short stories are more than brief narratives; they still must be complete tales. Trevor shows a remarkable ability to say things in his short stories without actually putting the words on the page. He avoids the first person in his writing and simply tells his story through the voice of a storyteller. It’s a formula that wears well for his readers.
The Irish-born Trevor sets most of his tales in England and Ireland. In “Child’s Play,” Gerald and Rebecca are the individual children of parents who have lived through tumultuous marriages. The kids become part of a new family when their parents are married, which allows them to live together in a unique and imaginary world. As the relationship in the newly formed family deteriorates, the imaginary games that had come to them by chance, “…a gift thrown out from other people’s circumstances,” come to an end. “Helplessness was their natural state.”
Life events are an important element in Trevor’s stories. Weddings and funerals are often the foundation of his plots. “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” tells readers of two women who marry the title character. “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old.” Widowed after years of marriage, the piano tuner remarries the woman he jilted prior to his first marriage. While his second wife gets “the ruins of him,” she also gets the opportunity to remake the tuner in a life more agreeable to her. “And that seemed fair also, since Violet had won in the beginning and had had the better years.”
“The Hill Bachelors” is set in Ireland. Paulie, the youngest child of an Irish farmer, returns home for his father’s funeral. He remains at the farm to assist his mother and searches for a wife. The prospects are slim as the local girls do not wish to live on a farm. Paulie sees himself becoming like the other farmers of his age, hill bachelors, “…men, some of them kept company by a mother or a sister.” But the opportunity to sell the farm causes him to recognize its importance. He cannot leave it; the hills have claimed him as one of their own.
Trevor’s stories are a mix of past and present. While set in contemporary times, they also remind readers of an older world, an England and Ireland where religious quarrels may have ended but have not yet been forgotten. For Trevor, it’s not all about what has changed but what has remained the same. These stories are told in simple yet beautiful prose and are timeless. Not without cause is William Trevor one of the greatest short-story writers of his generation. The proof is on the pages of SELECTED STORIES.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on November 4, 2010