Tuesday, November 22, 2016

William Trevor, a Writer for the Ages

William Trevor has died at the age of 88. I came to William Trevor’s masterful short stories late in life as American fiction has been my literary bailiwick.  Trevor was an Irishman who lived mostly in England as an adult.  My loss not having followed him all that time, but I made up for it reading his two massive collections of short stories. I was astounded by his genius.  In his passing, I feel as if a close friend has died, intimately knowing him by his love of, and his sadness for, his characters.  Nonetheless, he was but an observer… By the end, you should be inside your character, actually operating from within somebody else, and knowing him pretty well, as that person knows himself or herself. You're sort of a predator, an invader of people.

The Guardian obituary says it all about his life and fiction, justifiably declaring he was “one of the greatest short story writers of the last century.”  He also wrote 20 novels, an incredible output for a writer who mostly flew under the literary world’s radar screen, which suited him just fine. As a writer one doesn’t belong anywhere. Fiction writers, I think, are even more outside the pale, necessarily on the edge of society. Because society and people are our meat, one really doesn’t belong in the midst of society. The great challenge in writing is always to find the universal in the local, the parochial. And to do that, one needs distance.

While in my entries on Trevor I mentioned a few of his short stories, to describe them in detail is to retell his tales, so I tried to simply sum them up as follows:

“Here are widows and widowers, miscreants and innocents, the travails of the elderly juxtaposed to the innocence of youth, the dilemmas of the middle aged and the divorced, so often lonely people trying to connect with someone who is inappropriate, and people from all economic stations of life. His characters are victims of their own actions, sometimes ‘imagining’ (the number of times Trevor says, ‘he [or] she imagined’ is countless) different outcomes and different realities.  There is a Pinteresque quality to many of the stories, showing humanity, some humor, and a hint of the absurd.

We identify with his characters, perhaps their taking the wrong fork in the road as we might be prone to do, and the consequences of their actions.  He spotlights that inherent loneliness we sometimes feel at social gatherings, or in our everyday relationships.  The mistakes of our lives add up but so do our little victories, our justifications of our actions making things seem alright.” 

With the passing of Trevor, along with Updike and Cheever, our best short story writers have been silenced, but their literature lives.