“Mrs. Crasthorpe”
by William Trevor
from the February 26, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

“Mrs. Crasthorpe” is probably the last “new” William Trevor story we’ll get. From what I hear, when he died it was on his desk and essentially finished. I cannot wait to read and reread it! The opening paragraph has a lot of promise!

On the short walk from the churchyard to her car, Mrs. Crasthorpe was aware of a profound humiliation. A lone mourner at her husband’s funeral, she had sensed it first in the modest country church he had insisted upon for what he had called his obsequies. A woman cleric unknown to Mrs. Crasthorpe had conducted a bleak service, had said the necessary words in an accent that appalled Mrs. Crasthorpe, and then had scuttled off without so much as a glance in Mrs. Crasthorpe’s direction. Two men were waiting, leaning on their shovels in the nearby graveyard, and within minutes had returned the clay to where they had dug it from, making a little mound, the coffin gone forever and with it Arthur, all of it a mockery. She was wrong, Mrs. Crasthorpe knew, to blame Arthur for the arrangements he’d put in hand before he went, but she’d become used to blaming him in his lifetime and couldn’t help doing so still.

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By | 2018-02-19T11:51:39+00:00 February 19th, 2018|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, William Trevor|Tags: |27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Roger February 19, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    This story shows William Trevor was still at his peak near the end of his life. Everything from the rhythm of the sentences to the surprising turns in the characters’ actions make this one so outstanding and memorable. I found myself hoping that Etheridge would avoid capture by Mrs. Crasthorpe and then moved to sympathy for her, just as Etheridge was.

  2. Trevor Berrett February 19, 2018 at 11:53 pm

    I agree, Roger. This is another remarkable story from Mr. Trevor. I was fully engaged for the first third and kept wondering just where it was going to go, much like Mrs. Crasthorpe, I suppose. But once we got a bit of how Etheridge saw her — there was never any hope for a friendship, we see, let alone a romance — I sat back and thought: he’s done it again. William Trevor has done it again.

    I also love all of the secrets. Why did Mr. Crasthorpe want to be buried in that faraway churchyard, she wonders. We will never know. What we get instead is some of the secrets Mrs. Crasthorpe holds on to, secrets Etheridge can sense, which leads him to some form of connection.

  3. David February 20, 2018 at 1:50 am

    I really REALLY want to agree with you guys, but I got very confused by the transitions in this story. When the scene shifts to Etheridge and Janet, things got murky. We were not told Mrs. Crasthorpe’s first name, so I wondered “are Janet and Mrs. Crasthorpe the same person? If not, why are we suddenly in what seems like a completely different story?” Then when we get the next transition, we meet Derek. Since “Etheridge” sounds like a surname to me, not a given name, I wondered if maybe Derek was Etheridge and now the two stories were coming together. It was only when Etheridge and Mrs. Crasthorpe finally meet that the confusion was cleared up, and that’s halfway through the story.
    .
    I went back to see if this was just me being particularly dense and I don’t think it is. Maybe other readers will not have these confusions and just take at face value that these are all different people (but that still makes the shift from Mrs. C to Etheridge seem a bit abrupt). Re-reading the story without having to worry about who is who, it really is quite lovely. I just wish I could have had that experience the first time reading it as well.

  4. Trevor Berrett February 20, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    I have built-in trust when it comes to William Trevor, so none of the transitions bothered me. For me, even, it worked well because the slight lack of knowledge bolstered the sensation of “more to the story” that I think is beautifully conveyed with all of the characters.

    I totally get where you’re coming from, though. I had to look back a few times to see if the person we were meeting was one of the men mentioned in the first section, but I think Trevor does a good job paying off the momentary confusion. I also get where you’re coming from because I’m sure I’ve complained about this very thing somewhere else where it didn’t work for me — if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that I cannot come up with a grand theory of everything that explains what does and doesn’t work for me in a story!

  5. Eric February 21, 2018 at 1:37 am

    I had to read the first half twice before I picked up the narrative thread, but that’s been the case with most of the (relatively few) Trevor stories I’ve read. I guess that’s to be expected from someone who characterized storytelling as “the art of the glimpse”. As before, this left me thinking about the blank spaces in the narrative, trying out different ways of filling them in for myself, which I very much like in a story. R.I.P. to a master.

  6. Sean H February 21, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Trevor doing his thing with the concision and whatnot, evident right from par. 1. When he’s humming, his sentences really crackle. I like how in “She knew she would tell no one, not ever, that Arthur had been buried without a decent sendoff, just as she’d told no one that she was the mother of a son or that there had been, in the late years of her marriage, Tommy Kildare and Donald” only one of the fellas gets a full name and that’s the way the author conveys the character’s mindset. Very efficient, professional writing. They retain those monikers throughout the story even as their influence and importance grows. The blonded hair and talking aloud in the car also speak volumes in just a few words.

    The switch into Etheridge is initially unwelcome, and the Shakespeare (and other lit references) riffing felt “meh” at best. Every time we left the titular character to join Etheridge I experienced a similar mix of flummoxed and disappointed. He did win me over, mostly, by the end, so I can’t criticize too harshly, though he still functions more as a necessity/invention/reader’s surrogate than as a fully three-dimensional character.

    The son who’s a serial sex offender/flasher is quite elaborately woven in amongst the details. It’s legitimately surprising that he flashes his own mother, though the extent of his mental disorder/aberrance isn’t made clear, which is maybe a bit too coy, given that “she loved him as she did no other human being. She always had. She always would.” I’ll have to reread the story to come to a clearer conclusion about this thread, but I think it needed to be just a bit more explicit what is wrong with the guy (like; willful deviant or disabled in some way or suffering from something more debilitating and incurable that brings his mother shame; and when did his condition announce itself?)

    “We’re chalk and cheese” is a nice line.

    Tups and Primmie are dope-ass names. Well done, sir.

    It’s cool how Trevor gives her this capacious sexual appetite and backstory without making her seem desperate, whorish, trollop-y, philanderous, or attention-starved; just a lady who likes the fellas and her cocktails, not at all the “poor bloody woman” the guys who find her corpse see her as.

    Languid, not gross, and pungent; what a wonderful trio of descriptors (for a woman with “crass” right in her name, and “glamour” in her maiden one). And I love how she refers to Cambodia as “troublesome.”

    The concept that a person is more than their “manner” is an important one.

    Important also that a character who is so clearly a “curiosity” throughout the story becomes fully instantiated as one by story’s end (in the mind of the story’s other main character and in the eyes of the reader as well).

  7. Trevor Berrett February 21, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    I don’t know how I missed the news, but Viking will be publishing William Trevor’s Last Stories in May, which is when Trevor would have turned 90!

    It will include ten stories. From the Kirkus Review (starred, as I think should be the case!) I know six of them for sure. Three we’ve covered here:

    -“Mrs. Crasthorpe”
    -“The Piano Teacher’s Pupil”
    -“An Idyll in Winter”

    And three I didn’t know existed:

    -“Giotto’s Angels,” which I think was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Sewanee Review
    -“The Crippled Man,” which I think was originally published in Faber’s 2011 edition of New Irish Short Stories
    -“At the Caffè Diaria,” which I see no evidence of being published anywhere before

    I assume it will also include “The Women” and “The Woman of the House,” two other stories published in The New Yorker after Cheating at Canasta, Trevor’s last collection, was published in 2007.

    Anyway, this is excellent news. I’m anxious to see what the full contents are and I will let you know when I do.

    In the meantime, if you’d like to pre-order a copy . . .

  8. Dennis Lang February 23, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Love the concept, “the art of the glimpse”- that Eric mentions referring to how this narrative unfolds. So fractured at first with apparently disparate threads, so many blanks to fill in as the author methodically releases information, also in glimpses, carrying the reader along to its stunning conclusion.
    Thought provoking!

  9. Arleen February 26, 2018 at 12:05 am

    Agreeing with the concept, “the art of the glimpse”. I got so much more from my re read of this story. And as I scan these comments, remember that I always did need to re read Trevor’s stories. You read the last paragraph and say to yourself — “Oh gee, I guess I have to read that one again”.
    Seems Trevor offers some unexpected reveal near the story’s end that casts everything in the story in a new light. In this story I think it is Mrs. Crasthorpe’s son’s problems. She loves him heartily and obviously forgives him; but what he does and how he lives is totally foreign & incomprehensible to her.

  10. Dennis Lang February 26, 2018 at 11:34 am

    Absolutely Arleen! “Trevor offers some unexpected reveal near the story’s end that casts everything in the story in a new light.” I think super the way he structures this story where the reader’s moorings are always elusive, there’s always more than we’re being directly told, how he carries us along. So intricately constructed we can’t avoid the temptation to revisit it, to try seeing more clearly how all the pieces fit together.

  11. Arleen February 26, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Agree totally Dennis! I also love the tiny details that help direct our reactions. The policeman, not generally too sympathetic, comments “Poor, bloody woman” — just in case our sympathy has wavered. That comment was another motive for a re read.

  12. Freeman February 26, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    This was my first time reading Trevor’s fiction. I’ll be discussing the ending, so please avoid this post if you’re skimming the responses and have not yet read the story…

    I appreciated the sadness of “Mrs. Crasthorpe”; the story felt earnestly plugged into something honest and difficult about some of life’s cruelties: miscommunication and death, misguided selfishness and an unanticipated loss of self, etc. I don’t want to to frame this too cynically, though. Among those aspects I just noted, I think death is the only inevitable one, and the other cruelties can be guarded against (in fact, that’s perhaps part of the instructive/illuminating value of reading stories like these).

    The ending is what threw me at first — Mrs. Crasthorpe’s fate. It seemed to me, initially, like it was a bit on the nose or something: a theatrical and strained attempt at cashing in on the more nuanced melancholy that had been percolating throughout the story. In particular, the bit about her “being conveyed to hospital in the refuse men’s enormous vehicle, a reek of whiskey emanating from her sodden clothes” just seemed clunky both as a literal turn in the story and as a crass metaphor.

    However, the ending stayed with me in the days that followed my reading of the story. Its weirdness — its seeming awkwardness within the fabric of the narrative — had made it indelible. I suspect that was part of the point, and part of the dark brilliance, of choosing that ending. I think I failed to glean its power right away. In addition to its obvious sadness, there’s something almost ludicrous about the idea of being carried away in that particular kind of truck. The fact that this moment is vaguely ludicrous, that it is almost incongruously strange in relation to the preceding events, and that it represents such a jarring uptick in dramatic imagery: all of this conspires to make the ending something that is difficult to categorize, or to file away as the organic destination of the story or as a standard tragic conclusion.

    As an incredibly sad conclusion to the character’s life, and as a loudly dramatic cog in the narrative machine of the story, it seems almost too carefully engineered by the author. My point, though, is that perhaps this effect is still useful and impactful and, in a paradoxical way, very much of a piece with the story. The image of her conveyance to the hospital is something that breaks from the naturalism of the story that preceded it. Trevor therefore pushes the story, asking it emerge from from a world of carefully-observed details — the quiet murmur of those restaurants and patios — and to instead alight on something miserable and bizarre and pointed. I think the sense of incongruity, and the tonal slipperiness, is part of the achievement here…the image endures not only because it’s sad, but also because it seems in excess of the established tone and logic of the story. It’s a disruption of sense, in that way, which, in a story like this, actually makes a lot of sense.

  13. Freeman March 1, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Additional note: when I said “death” is an inevitable cruelty, I meant, like, in the sense that we all eventually die. However, Crasthorpe’s death is different and is not framed as “inevitable” — for obvious reasons. Also, Trevor seemed to be suggesting that Crasthorpe possibly enacted some form of suicide, which, again, is obviously not in that inevitable category.

    BTW, looking back at my long-winded post, who knows if my analysis (that is, paragraphs 3-5) makes much sense, but oh well…hasty impressions. I liked the story. I should read another of his short stories.

  14. Greg March 8, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    Thank you Sean and Freeman for your extended posts. You both brought so much more of the story to me!

    And I admire the following piece of writing:

    “But mainly, while time passed more slowly than on weekdays, he watched from a pavement table of a café the people who came and went. He envied them, and he envied himself as he had been.”

  15. Larry Bone March 14, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    The saddest part of this story is how Mrs. Crasthorpe ends up dead on Falter Way which is like nothing street. I was trying to figure out how she ended up there. She had always snagged the really rich guys and gotten all their money. Etheridge never went for the bait even though she’d had at him several times. Etheridge seems like a decent guy who cared for his wife and had shared a lot with her. And then death took her away too soon. I thought he might go for Mrs. Crasthorpe out of a need for some weird sort of solace. But he just goes on with his life and finds another woman that seems a better situation at least for him. If Crasthorpe was relatively content after this last one checked out why did she have to try to rope in another one? I don’t want to seem callus but that line “She had married him for his money, but, in spite of the comfort and convenience this had brought, Mrs. Crasthorpe believed that in marriage she had failed to blossom.” Seems ironic. And then I wondered how many nice looking women “blossom” after having married a man for money? Some have but mostly don’t they end up an appendage, something the old man possesses. Is this woman’s tragic flaw that she knows nothing about how to blossom or has the trap like thought that if she marrys a rich guy then she will surely blossom since it takes a lot of money, a lot of time on your hands and to be somewhat physically good looking to have the faintest possible chance of blossoming. And she ends up dead surrounded by garbage. Why couldn’t she be happy and content with the last one’s money? You could get moral or think it is a karma payback thing or whatever pops into one’s head but that doesn’t seem part of it at all. There’s definitely more than meets the eye. So it is pretty awesome to have gotten so many things going on in 5 pages. Etheridge was sort of the baseline character and most sympathetic. I really like the precision of William Trevor’s syntax in almost every sentence. The older world he writes about is of it’s own type and yet modern in his perception of such diverse human nature. I need to read it again for what other readers picked up from the story and mentioned in their comments.

  16. Greg March 16, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you Larry for your reflections on the story. You have made me dwell on this again. My favourite part of your post was this:

    “And then I wondered how many nice looking women “blossom” after having married a man for money? Some have but mostly don’t they end up an appendage, something the old man possesses. Is this woman’s tragic flaw that she knows nothing about how to blossom or has the trap like thought that if she marrys a rich guy then she will surely blossom since it takes a lot of money, a lot of time on your hands and to be somewhat physically good looking to have the faintest possible chance of blossoming. And she ends up dead surrounded by garbage.”

  17. Freeman May 26, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    Looking back over this thread as I continue, months later, to puzzle over this story. While I’m here, I wanted to correct an annoying imprecision from my most previous message:

    “However, Crasthorpe’s death is different and is not framed as “inevitable” — for obvious reasons. Also, Trevor seemed to be suggesting that Crasthorpe possibly enacted some form of suicide, which, again, is obviously not in that inevitable category.”

    I meant to write, “Mrs. Crasthorpe” throughout those two sentences ^^ instead of just “Crasthorpe.” Although, maybe her husband — the only other Crasthorpe mentioned in the story (his funeral is referenced at the beginning) — also had an avoidable death? To be honest, I can’t recall the circumstances of his death in the story, so I don’t know.

    BTW: If anyone has any recommendations for other Trevor stories to read, please feel free to share them.

  18. Greg May 27, 2018 at 1:10 am

    Hi Freeman – As for other stories by William, I recommend: After Rain, Cheating at Canasta and A Bit on the Side (my all-time favourite!).

  19. Trevor Berrett May 28, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    My favorite Trevor story is “The Piano Tuner’s Wives,” which won the recent Mookse Madness over on Goodreads. I also love “An Idyll in Winter.” As I write this, I’m tracking my copy of Last Stories, which will arrive at my home on Wednesday or Thursday!

  20. Greg May 28, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    You have me pumped up Trevor for LAST STORIES!….how many of the stories will be brand new to you?

  21. Trevor Berrett May 28, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    I think just three, Greg. And they’re three I’d never even heard of before the book was announced. Still, I will be reading all the others again! They’re all just so good.

  22. Greg May 29, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Super Trevor, now I fully see why you’re so pumped up – Three truly new stories from William….I can’t wait to get your impressions in June!

  23. Trevor Berrett May 29, 2018 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks, Greg! I’m excited to share!

  24. David May 29, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    Greg, three may be new to Trevor B, but only two of the stories in the collection are previously unpublished. One of those, “Taking Mr. Ravenswood”, was published online as well two weeks ago (here: https://lithub.com/taking-mr-ravenswood/ ). The other one, “At the Caffè Daria”, is only available in the book.

  25. Greg May 30, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    Super David….Look forward to discussing “At the Caffè Daria” with you and Trevor B this summer!

  26. Arleen May 30, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    Wow! What a story! At this point I cannot figure out who to thank, but thanks for publishing the source.
    As usual, Trevor requires more than one read – and how delicious is that.

    With these late stories it seems Trevor allows some indulgence in real bitterness; people — men + women can be pretty nasty. Although looking professional, “cultured”, polished on the outside monsters may lurk inside.
    I love the double-swipe here; it is like a game of tennis …OR name another sport. Male bats female. Rich bats poor. Bated female takes revenge. Female always has to bear brunt of child – keeping…….

    And all without one wasted word. Trevor’s prose is so spare it is almost cryptic. “the paisley…

    Really looking forward to other comments

  27. Arleen May 31, 2018 at 9:39 am

    My comments above apply to “Taking Mr. Ravenswood” not “Mrs. Crasthorpe”. I don’t know how to fix that.

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