William Trevor has died at the age of 88. If ever I’m asked who my favorite living author is, I often answer William Trevor. His stories in particular have enriched my life, influenced the way I see other people, and have taught me that I need to be a better person, there’s so much pain out there in the quiet places already.
If you haven’t ever read anything by William Trevor, naturally I encourage you to change that. His publishing career spanned over sixty years, from his (later disowned) debut A Standard of Behavior in1958, to his final novel, 2009’s Love and Summer. Since Love and Summer he has published a couple of stories that remain uncollected, and they show that he wasn’t losing his touch. I hoped against hope that we’d get one more collection, or just one more story, from him. The last I know of was “The Women,” which first appeared in The New Yorker in January 2013 (see our thoughts here). The other uncollected story that I know of is “An Idyll in Winter,” which was published in The Guardian in November 2011 (see our thoughts here). It is one of my favorite stories of all time.
William Trevor has a few others that are in my “favorite of all time” list. But I think my true absolute favorite story of all time is his beautiful “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” (see my thoughts here). I reread this story — or listen to Trevor read it to me — often. It is a masterpiece.
Where to begin? There are many options. Last year my wife bought me one of my most treasured book possessions: the two-volume giftset of Trevor’s stories that Penguin/Viking published in 2009. I’d recommend it! Jump in . . .
I haven’t read a dud.
Thank you, Trevor. We will have for the rest of our own lives Mr. Trevor’s magnificent oeuvre to read, re-read, and savor.
Thank you for sharing this. I spent my lunch today listening to Mr. Trevor read “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.” What a beautiful writer and a rich, rich reading of his story.
I’m very grateful for that, Seth! I’ve still got loads of novels and stories by Trevor that I have not read! I have a feeling I’ll be getting to a few of them over the holidays.
Me too! Kind of answers the question of what to read next. . . .
He’s long been a favourite of mine. I have that 2-vol set – a Christmas present some time ago. A sad loss.
I bought a bumper volume of collected short stories some time ago. A fabulous experience although a bit difficult to hold. When I win the Lotto I think I will collect all the individual books. Well worth rereading. As an aside, there are not many books available discussing his work (there’s a market for you Trevor). I managed to acquire a second-hand edition of an out-of-print work by some Irish writer (can’t put my hand on it for the moment).
One interesting comment she made (to paraphrase very clumsily) was that even when Trevor’s characters are English they are in fact Irish characters placed in an English setting, reacting to events,… with an Irish mentality. As an Englishman, who has quite a few Irish friends, I found this remark quite intriguing, as the characters often strike me as ever so slightly foreign (or “different” I suppose), as an Irish person (as opposed to a Russian, say) would be to an English person.
There is such a sadness at the finality of the death of an artist. We have seen so many leave us this year in many disciplines. While we mourn the loss of these greats we are lucky to be left with their bodies of work- to reread, re listen, watch and see and more importantly to continue to discuss and share so that their works shine brightly to future generations as they did in our lifetime. Discovering Trevor’s stories several years ago was like finding a treasure chest of riches.
“He traveled in order to come home.”
Truly one of the greats. I hope they put out an enormous single volume of all the stories…
What is your definition of a short story?
I think it is the art of the glimpse. If the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story is an impressionist painting. It should be an explosion of truth. Its strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more. It is concerned with the total exclusion of meaninglessness. Life, on the other hand, is meaningless most of the time. The novel imitates life, where the short story is bony, and cannot wander. It is essential art.”
Something I only just noticed about the story you mention, “The Piano Tuner’s Wives”, is that at one point we are given the briefest glimpse of the first wife’s feelings toward her rival. Asked about Belle, Violet hesitates and then says, “Belle still looks a girl”. That moment’s hesitation tells you everything, and that is where William Trevor’s art lies.
Your writings here have deepened my appreciation of his work. I hope you’ll keep posting your thoughts about his stories.
“A Bit on the Side” is my personal all-time favourite….real, heartbreaking and mature….William was so wise…..he taught me dignity viscerally……how fortunate I am to have learned from him!