Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Trevor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trevor. Show all posts

23 September, 2015

William Trevor, "Broken Homes"

The teacher from the nearby school goes by Mrs. Malby's house to tell her that some "children" from the school would be by on Tuesday to repaint her kitchen. He's a forceful kind of guy and Mrs. Malby, eighty-seven years old, worries that people will regard her as senile so she is particularly careful not to seem confused or repetitive. However, she is confused because her kitchen does not need painting and she quite likes it just as it is.  "'It's just that I wondered,' she said, having made up her mind to say it, 'if you could possibly have come to the wrong house?'"

The teens, three boys and a girl, do go to Mrs. Malby's apartment, above the greengrocer's on Catherine Street, and set about making a huge mess with the paint, in colors she never chose, and having sex in her bed, and releasing her pet birds, budgerigars.

Trevor does an excellent job of characterizations with all of the personalities and with deftness illustrates the way an elderly person worries over how he/she is regarded and judged. I also like how Trevor opens the story right away with the teacher from the Tite Comprehensive school talking at Mrs. Malby. I don't think he ever "hears" what she says and if he does, he forces his thinking upon her.

I listened to the story again today, read by Meryl Streep. She does a marvelous job. The story is written in a close third person point of view. Usually, Trevor's stories shift POV quite a bit but I didn't detect that in this one.

Symphony Space, the story is available for purchase, audio, read by Meryl Streep
evidently the story was adapted for television in 1985

04 July, 2015

William Trevor, "Honeymoon in Tramore"

William Trevor, author
Kitty, thirty-five, and Davy Toome, thirty-three, are married and on honeymoon. As the story progresses we find out that Kitty is pregnant by Coddy but he didn't want to marry her and she lies to Davy that the father is the son of a priest. Kitty's mother died in childbirth and Davy was an orphan. Davy was thirty-three, age of Jesus, when he married, i.e. saved, Kitty. Her aunt with her shrewd eye suggested that if Davy were to ask Kitty for marriage, she would accept. The aunt knew Kitty was pregnant and had been rejected. Conveniently the man, Davy, has been in love with her since he came to work on her father's farm. The story touches on Catholicism and love and duty and sin and family and society's expectations. Once again, Trevor teases out all of these details with ease while building a story. He doesn't tell us like it is but shows us through the thoughts, actions and dialogue of the characters. I've only touched on the complexity of the story.

William Trevor, "Bodily Secrets"

Norah O'Neill has been a widow for three years and against her son's vehement objections she has decided to remarry. Cathay, Norah's son and eldest child, has decided to close the toy factory because he wants to start a turf-bog business. The only toy still made is a little dog on wheels. The man, Basil Agnew, who Norah marries, walks his landlords little dog and he also saves a sample of each toy made at the factory for which he has been the foreman for seventeen years. He and Norah eventually live in the house, Arcangelo House, modeled on a Roman Hotel. Trevor has captured the attitudes and underlying prejudices of Norah's friends and family as well as the sly remarks people make when passing judgments on people. Agnew goes to Dublin on some weekends for his gay trysts but he is honest with Norah and they fulfill the needs of each other despite the opinions of others. Trevor lays wide open that simple honest needs of people can be richly fulfilled despite society's expectations and demands. "Bodily Secrets" is told in a shifting 3rd person POV and a simple past tense and is thirty pages long.

03 July, 2015

William Trevor, "Lovers of Their Time"

Norman Britt is forty years old and going through a mid-life crisis of sorts. Although his wife is hungry for lots of sex, he isn't, at least with her. He starts to fancy the girl, Marie, who works at the pharmacy, Green's the Chemist. She is twenty-eight. The begin an affair and ultimately decide that they have to be together. When confronted with a divorce, Hilda tells her husband that he should "Take her into a park after dark or something." Later that night Hilda tells Norman that his telling her about his lover, Marie, "switched me on." Hilda is quite liberated and the 1960's were liberating. Later we find out that she's been having her own flings and even in groups. "Lovers of Their Time" is about the 1960s as much as it is about a husband and wife's relationship. Trevor uses singers, songs, newspapers, building names, television and radio programs and popular drinks to set the tone of the particular decade along with the attitudes of the women. After Norman has had his fling with Marie and monetarily it didn't work out, Hilda invites him back home and he goes. The story takes place in London and the affair is carried out at the Great Western Royal Hotel at Paddington Station. Hilda and Norman lived on Putney Road and Marie in Reading, west of London. She rides the train home every evening from Paddington, hence the convenience. The story begins in 1963 specifically and ends more than three years later. I like the way Trevor bookends the story with its beginning with Elvis Presley and ending with the Beatles. The story is more about the times than people having affairs. The people are as much a product of their times, as the title states, as the details peppering the story. The story also touches on the theme of appearances. No one's appearance equals that of what people imagine they'd be like as in don't judge a book by its cover.

The story is told in a shifting 3rd-person POV and simple past tense. It's almost thirty pages long. This story, was the title story of a collection first published in 1978. I can't see anywhere that it was first published in a journal. ? It's included in the giant Collected Stories of William Trevor as well as in the five story collection, Bodily Secrets.

One of my favorite lines:
"Looking back on it, he was for ever after unable to recall the first moment he beheld the bathroom on the second floor without experiencing the shiver of pleasure he'd experienced the first time."

02 July, 2015

William Trevor, "The Day We Got Drunk on Cake"

This story is hilarious and pitiful simultaneously, just as love and infatuation can be. Mike is out on the town with an old friend, Swann, he hasn't seen in years. They meet up with Margo and Jo. Barhopping, drinking. Margo is concerned about her husband, that he might be "mental" because he brings home small groups of old women and his only reasoning is that they haven't "finished their meeting." We never learn exactly what those meetings are about or if Nigel is indeed mental. Mike is "mental" though over Lucy Anstruth. She's at home reading Adam Bede when her lover, Frank, appears. While barhopping, Mike calls Lucy seven times with nothing much to say except that he misses her and that he wishes she was there with him. We never learn exactly what their relationship had been before Frank appeared. The author, William Trevor, is able to slow down the reader so that we watch and pay attention to every detail, but only the details that matter, that move the story forward or reveal the character. There are no rogue details.

Many of Trevor's stories have a shifting 3rd person POV but this one is a very close 1st person POV. This might be a bit of a shift, "Swann was bored..."

"The Day We Got Drunk on Cake" is included in a cute little volume, Bodily Secrets, in the series Great Loves - Penguin Books that I bought at the Strand in NY. It is also included in the Collected Stories of William Trevor. I think it is a fairly famous story of his as I have heard the title mentioned from time to time. It appears that the story was first published in 1967. I had looked up "ten-shilling note" and saw that it was discontinued in 1970. Mr. Trevor was born in 1928 and has written many, many short story collections and novels.

23 September, 2014

William Trevor, "The Women"

Cecilia, a privileged fourteen year old, lives with her father, is schooled at home and accompanied by quiet servants and is finally sent to a boarding school so that she can "be a girl among other girls." She didn't know what had happened to her mother "and she didn't feel she could ask." That tells a lot about the sheltered and protective but closed atmosphere she lives in. Her father is caring but was never the same after his wife left him for another man just two years into their marriage.

At the boarding school, which she hates at first, she finally makes a couple of close friends and is mysteriously followed or stalked by two older women, one tall and one dumpy. Mystery and coincidence unfolds.

Cecilia plays Thisbe in a school play. The story of lovers who cannot be together and tragically kill themselves when each mistakenly thinks the other has already died.

The author, William Trevor, uses his skilled shifting POV in "The Women" as he does in many of his stories. He also maintains a level of mystery so that readers have to pay attention and surmise a certain amount. He teases, "Both had thought it likely that tonight they would talk again about that time, but found they didn't."

Miss Keble and Miss Cotell go once again to the school because Miss Cotell says she must return so that she can tell Cecilia how wonderful her performance was. The women confront Cecilia and ask her to visit them at their house. Cecilia becomes somewhat concerned that maybe the women are deranged and then Miss Keble blurts that Miss Cotell is Cecilia's mother. Cecilia in her quiet way does not tell anyone of the meeting and invitation or even of the incredible news. The two women begin to argue and Miss Cotell is heard saying that "I gave my sworn word." I'm not sure what I feel about Cecilia. She either feels separated from the world at large or is just so bewildered by it all so  she never demands answers. She's proper and reserved or stupid or oblivious.

On a summer trip Cecilia finally tells her father of the two women. He  admits to her that "I let you believe as you did because it was the easier thing and sometimes, even, I pretended to myself that it was true. I was ashamed of being rejected."

This shifting POV story is about shame, fear of rejection, sadness and living with a melancholy rather than risking another rejection as well as allowing people to surmise what they will and not offering clarification out of fear. And, even if he had tried to explain, the explanation could be nothing more than an attempt. The story takes place in England, some posh vacation spots and a boarding school.

The daughter learns from her father how to live with distress even as "this flimsy exercise in supposition was tenuous and vague."

"The Women" was first published in the New Yorker and then in The O'Henry Prize Stories, 2014.

full text of the story at The New Yorker
Charles May's comments about "The Women"

31 October, 2013

William Trevor, "On the Streets"

Oh my goodness, what a story. We meet Arthurs eating his lunch late in the afternoon, "…liver and peas and mashed potatoes…" While I feel some people might want to be given a SPOILER ALERT.  To me it never matters in a short story. A good short story begs to be read again and again even if you know what is at the end of the suspense. This is just a fabulous story, once again, showcasing Trevor's skill in building character through action and dialogue and allowing it to unfold deliciously.

Arthurs is a murderer but his ex-wife, to whom Arthurs was married, for all of five months, knows of Arthurs's deeds and yet goes to her three jobs telling no one.

The story is divided into seven sections with the shifting viewpoint which is common in Trevor's stories. However, I hardly notice the shifts because they are so smooth and natural.

With Trevor I don't usually have particularly favorite single sentences-not that they aren't great-but because it is the ordering of the sentences and paragraphs and how a sentence or dialogue or motif early in the story referenced again later enhances a person or scene. Trevor slowly reveals without being slow or calculated or frustrating. I'm always amazed at his slowly paced speed, pinpointed characterizations revealed with showing not telling, and a simple complexity. I'd be interested to know how much he has to cut from early versions and how much re-arranging he has to do. Does he write along and a certain structure is just natural for him or does he have to impose it after the story. I don't think he imposes it afterwards and that is why he is so great. Well, one reason.

For example, in the second paragraph "…bony wrists protruding from frayed white cuffs." On page fourteen, "You didn't expect there'd be a waiter with soiled cuffs in this dining room, she said when Mr. Simoni came." Then, on page eighteen, "…remembering the woman saying that his cuffs were grimy." While, I suppose you could just say that "cuffs" is a motif, which it is, but this pacing of detail reveals structure and style.

"On the Streets" is part of the collection, A Bit on the Side, published in 2004 by Viking. It was first published in the New Yorker magazine.


Paris Review interview
British Council

22 July, 2012

William Trevor, "In Isfahan"

Normanton traveling in Isfahan casually meets Iris Smith, a.k.a. Mrs. Azann, a fellow English person. At first it seems as though Iris Smith is unmarried but eventually we learn that she is unhappily married to an Indian man and lives with some of his extended family and business partner. Bantering between details about Mrs. Azann and Mr. Normanton reveals their backstories. However, it is a one-sided reveal as Normanton does not tell the truth about his situation at home. The details are revealed only to the reader and never to Iris who seems to be on her own journey to see what possibilities might open up for her. She's unhappy and hoping for a change.

The theme seems to me to be that sometimes meeting a stranger can reveal much about ourselves to ourselves. We learn who we are through others.

The story is divided into 8 sections with shifting 3rd person POVs.

The story was originally published in 1975 and part of the collection, Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories. Subsequently, Larry Dark included it in his anthology, The Literary Traveler: An Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction.

04 September, 2011

William Trevor, "A Happy Family"

Elizabeth in "A Happy Family" probably started out as such but we watch her descend into either depression or some sort of emotional breakdown. It's written in first-person POV and divided into 7 sections or scenes. In section three, there's a shift in POV when Mrs. Farrell is on the telephone with Mr. Higgs. Mrs. Farrell diagnoses her own ailment in her conversation but at that point it is still not entirely clear to the reader who Mr. Higgs is. The story is an indictment of the husband in the sense that the children know something is wrong before Mr. Farrell does and Mrs. Farrell's being "taken from the house" was how women were treated earlier for depressions etc.

William Trevor always captures nuances of behavior and personality. As I recall, he usually shifts point-of-view more than in this story. He so skillfully shifts that it's almost undetectable on first read.

"A Happy Family" was first published in 1967, Antioch Review and they've republished it this year in the summer 2011 Summer All Fiction Issue. William Trevor is a true master of the short story form. I would love to be able to hear him speak about writing.

Wikipedia biography biography
BookRag biography
Contemporary Writers biography

10 May, 2010

William Trevor, "The Woman of the House"

William Trevor's short story, "The Woman of the House," is included in The Pen/O'Henry Prize Stories, 2010 and it was first published in The New Yorker. A man bound to a wheelchair, cared for by a distant cousin disappears and the itinerant painters aren't sure what to make of it. The theme seems to be that "...circumstances made them that, as hers made her what she'd become."