Litstack Rec: Selected Stories & Gemini Cell

Selected Stories, by William Trevor

A volume of stories by William Trevor is a reader’s must-have, and this 2009 collection brings together some of the great writer’s best—48 classic stories, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and literary magazines such as Glimmer Train and the late, great, Antaeus.

Trevor, who died in 2016 at the age of 88, and wrote scores of short stories and more than fifteen novels, remains a revered writer, one who with daunting precision renders his characters’ most heartbreaking truths. He does so with a legendary use of voice, tone, and detail, making for a signature style:

 

From the table they always sat at, side by side so that they could see the street where the office workers were beginning to hurry by, she watched him patting a pocket of his jacket, making sure his cigarettes and lighter were there. Something was different this morning; on the walk from Chiltern Street she had sensed, for an instant only, that their love affair was not as it had been yesterday.

That’s from “A Bit on the Side,” and the moment—an instant in which “something was different,” leaps out from the ordinary details—and becomes as vivid for the reader as it is for the unnamed character facing the end of an affair.

The New York Times’ Charles McGrath described Trevor’s prose as having a “precise, well-made solidness,” and there is indeed a well-built, craftsman-like quality to these stories. In “A Day,” an upper-class woman, bereft over her childless marriage and a husband who’s having an affair, spends her days meticulously tending house, shopping, and drinking vodka. The story is part tragedy, part reverie:

Mrs. Lethwes dreams: a child again, she remains in the car while her brother, Charlie, visits the Indian family who run the supermarket. Kittens creep from beneath inverted flowerpots in the Bunches’ back yard, and she is there, in the yard too, looking for Charlie because he is visiting the Bunches now. ‘You mustn’t go bothering the Bunches,’ their mother upbraids him. ‘People are busy.’ There are rivers to cross, and the streets aren’t there any more; there is a seashore, and tents.

Some of Trevor’s most treasured stories are here: “The Piano Tuners’ Wives,” which tells of Owen Dromgould, the piano tuner caught between two wives, one living and one dead; “After Rain,” in which a young woman, Harriet, visits an Italian villa Io sola, alone, after a love affair has ended; and “Folie à Deux,” a haunting story about a chance encounter with a childhood friend and a secret shared in the past—one thought to be forgotten. That story’s summary is a perfect metaphor for the effect of Trevor’s stories: secrets will take on a life of their own, and even when thought to be buried, are alive in the imagination.

—Lauren Alwan

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