“The Piano Teacher’s Pupil”
by William Trevor
from the June 26, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

William Trevor died last November at the age of 88 (see my brief thoughts on his death here). Ever since The New Yorker published his wonderful “The Women” in early 2013 (our lengthy thread on that story here), I’d been hoping against hope that we’d get at least one more story from him, and every week I’d watch the New Yorker’s twitter feed just hoping they would say that the next story was from William Trevor. My hope was dim, and of course when he died I gave it up entirely. But here we are! I even stayed up well past my bed time, refreshing the New Yorker website to get the story and post here as soon as possible. Usually the new magazine and its contents are up at midnight in New York. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen this time, and I eventually had to go to bed. So, I haven’t read the story yet, but I’ve printed it and am off to work with it in my bag.

I’m not yet sure about when this was written (see my update just belowThe New Yorker has given some details). I have a list of what I think are all of Trevor’s works, and this is not on it, so I believe it has never been seen before. And if it is new, how long ago did Trevor write it, or stop writing it? Did he finish it to his satisfaction? Is there an editorial reason we aren’t seeing it until several months after his death? I’d like to know the answers if anyone has any insight.

I love Trevor’s work. It has changed me for the better. I cannot guarantee that will happen to everyone who encounters him, but I’d still be willing to recommend his work to you if you haven’t read him yet.


I reached out to The New Yorker via Twitter and they provided a great response:

And even better, after I asked if more were coming:

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By | 2017-06-20T11:36:21+00:00 June 19th, 2017|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, William Trevor|Tags: |13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Trevor Berrett June 19, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    “The Piano Teacher’s Pupil,” simply by its title, immediately calls to mind my favorite William Trevor story (at least, one of my favorites) “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.” Also connecting the dots are lovely passages here about the idylls of youth, regret, sudden disorienting feelings that one’s life is not as one initially thought.

    It was lovely to be back in Trevor’s prose. I’m like the Piano Teacher: just put Trevor here and I’ll patiently sit and watch — he can steal my things on his way out. I’ll take the mockery, I’ll be that subservient, just to have the gift of his work. Especially this unexpected gift.

    However, while the themes are nicely in place, and I’ll read this one again and again because of some of the beautiful passages, it feels like this was a work in progress that, sadly, was never fully fleshed out to be the luxury it was meant to be. It’s brief and I miss those extended moments of quiet where I feel I’m just sitting with his character.

    Still, such a pleasure.

  2. David June 19, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Trevor, this is only the second William Trevor story I have read (so far) – the first being “An Idyll in Winter”, which I read just after he died and enjoyed immensely. When I saw the title of this one I momentarily thought it might be an older story because of the similarity in title to “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.” It would be surprising if he titled this one as he did and did not intend readers to make some connection between the stories, but not having read that one (yet) I cannot say what that might be.
    .
    I share both your enthusiasm for the story and the belief that it was more a work in progress than a finished story. A few paragraphs, especially early on, read a little more like detailed notes for how he wanted to develop the story than a final version, but there is still enough there to make this worthy of publication. Last month The Paris Review published an article that discussed the virtues and vices of reading newly discovered works by Walt Whitman. I was reminded of it when seeing this story appear. It is hard to know when we should leave an artist’s oeuvre alone and when it is ok to posthumously add to it. Even if this is lesser William Trevor (or just unfinished William Trevor) it is still better than a lot of work being published today. I’m glad The New Yorker decided to publish it.

  3. Trevor Berrett June 20, 2017 at 11:44 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed it too, David. I reread it again last night, and, as often happens with his work, I’m seeing so much hidden just below the surface. I still feel like he’d have added some more texture, but it’s remarkable how much he did here.

    I love his explorations of quiet dread and self-doubt. I love that he keeps things ambiguous, while we focus on the atmosphere of the piano teacher’s one room (we never leave it) and all of the men that have affected that private space: her father, her lover, and now this piano student. And I love that, even if she’s wrong, she’s shedding the scales from her eyes to see that her memories may have been delusions. I find it hard to believe that her father really was selfishly bribing her to stay, but that’s not important; it’s important that she now wonders. The student has made her question her most treasured memories. Where she once say love and gifts, she now sees selfishness and her own captivity.

    I also love that the piece seems to end happy, with an epiphany, but it could be its opposite. Rather than seeing clearly, the piano teacher could be retreating again into delusion:

    And, looking at him, Miss Nightingale realized what she had not before: that mystery was a marvel in itself. She had no rights in this. She had sought too much in trying to understand human frailty connected with love or with the beauty that the gifted brought. There was a balance struck: it was enough.

    I’m anxious to see how others take the ending of this story.

  4. Trevor Berrett June 20, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Please see my addendum above in the main post. The New Yorker responded to my inquiry via Twitter to say that the piece was one of a few unpublished pieces Trevor had on his desk when he died. They don’t know if he was done with it or if he would have returned to it. I agree with them, though: it’s great as it is.

    More importantly, when I asked if some of those other few would be coming, they said “at least one.”

  5. David June 20, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Her questioning those past relationships is a bit of a mystery. I agree with you that I don’t see any reason to question her father’s motivations, so the fact she does says something about her. With the married lover, I like how we are told about the end of that affair: “there had been painful regret on Miss Nightingale’s side, but, since then, she had borne her lover no ill will, for, after all, there was the memory of a happiness.” We are not told what her regret consists in. Regret for the deception of the man’s wife? Regret for deluding herself that he would ever leave his wife? Regret for wasting time and ending up unmarried? We never find out. (Miss Nightingale reminds me of Mary Jo in Alice Munro’s “Eskimo” and her long term relationship with a supposedly unhappily married man.)
    .
    The idea that the stolen knick-knacks might just be a price she has to pay and pays willingly for the privilege of getting to observe the boy play the piano every week serves nicely as a metaphor for how she views the other two relationships with men, especially the lover. Each time she saw him it cost her a little something personally, but she decided it was a fair price for what she got in return. As for her father, if the chocolates she got from him were bribes, is she bribing the pupil with knick-knacks? She never tries to get any of them back or to hide them so he won’t take more. Perhaps her father knew she was stealing the chocolates and allowed it, as she does, because for him it was a price worth paying as well.
    .
    I really should get around to reading “The Piano Tuner’s Wives”. As I understand it, the two wives of the title are from different generations, just as the three men (well, “males” anyway) here are from three different generations and represent three very different kinds of love in her life. I’m even more curious now to see how deep some of the parallels between these two stories might go.

  6. Trevor Berrett June 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Yes, you do need to get around to “The Piano Tuner’s Wives”! I’d even recommend listening to Trevor read it himself once you’ve read it, because he’s an exceptional reader of his sometimes syntactically strange (but wonderfully so) prose. It starts at the 23:05 mark here:

    “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old. . . .”

  7. Trevor Berrett June 20, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    By the way, I find that reading Trevor aloud is worthwhile. I don’t read aloud to my wife very often, but I have read her a few William Trevor stories. I just love the sounds, the depths the words convey. They generally hold such compassion even when they’re being used to strip away someone’s pretensions, delusions, hopes.

  8. David June 21, 2017 at 11:33 am

    The first story William Trevor reads in that video is “Teresa’s Wedding”. Since Google books lets you read the text of it in full, I decided to listen to him read it and read along. It is an incredibly good story. It reminded me of James Joyce’s Dubliners, one of my favourite short story collections. Hearing him read only made it better. Marvelous stuff!
    .
    Interestingly, the version he read and the print version of the story I had were not the same. He made a number of small revisions in a few places. It reminded me that with short stories the fact that a work is published is never an indication that the author has finished writing it. Just that it is good enough for now and might get some more alterations when anthologized or re-published. So no matter how close to finished “The Piano Teacher’s Pupil” might have been, I am fairly sure he might have taken at least one more look at it and found things to make better.

  9. Dennis Lang June 21, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Trevor, I can’t imagine any admiration for a writer’s work more compelling than your line above: “It has changed me for the better.”
    Having just been introduced to William Trevor here at the Mookse, and had the opportunity now to read a number of his stories, including this one, there is a rare magic happening. i don’t know exactly–compassion, empathy, acceptance, dignity…–all so beautifully expressed in mood and atmosphere. It becomes palpable. We are enriched by the experience.

  10. Trevor June 21, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    I’m heartened to hear that you both are enjoying Trevor’s work! Enjoying but also seeing some of the same qualities I am. It’s a delight to hear and share this kind of admiration!

  11. avataram June 21, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Trevor’s comments really helped me appreciate the story better – “….while we focus on the atmosphere of the piano teacher’s one room (we never leave it) and all of the men that have affected that private space: her father, her lover, and now this piano student.”

    Is the story complete? Did Trevor intend to expand on it? In the presence of such beauty, such an unexpected, wonderful little story, these questions are like the lost knick knacks of the Piano teacher. They dont matter. It is wonderful that it was found on his desk, unpublished. Very grateful that it is TNY’s story of the week.

    I am also relishing the coincidence of Trevor the author and Trevor of Mookse! I have to say I enjoy reading both Trevors.

  12. Trevor Berrett June 22, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    I like the relationship! Told my wife that our last son should be William Trevor. He’s Simon Trevor instead, but I will have to tell him he was named after the great writer and not me :-)

  13. Dennis Lang June 22, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Hah!

    Great name: Simon Trevor Berrett. Definitely Presidential–or renowned 21st century novelist!

    Going to keep an eye on this kid!

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