Reflections: William Trevor’s The Collected Stories

I’ve been reading the late Irish writer William Trevor’s The Collected Stories, a sprawling anthology of nearly 1300 pages, stories that have been compared with those of Chekhov and Joyce (Dubliners), culminating in many literary prizes and Trevor’s receiving honorary knighthood. The tributes, in fact, are endless, with many deeming him our most illustrious contemporary master of the genre. For many years, he was associated with The New Yorker.

His stories, however, may prove difficult going for many in these troubled times when we reach desperately for good tidings, not quotidian gloom. While his facility with language is indisputable in its ease and fluidity, his characterization impeccable, there seems never a relief to a bleak landscape of broken lives, shattered expectations, deceit and cruelty. Many of the stories deal with the angst of aging, declining physical and mental capability, a clinging to past memories, accompanying alienation, loneliness, and anxiety in the foreground of marauding mortality.

Despite all this, his psychological prescience sustains, with characters delineated by their own compulsions, denials and lethargies. In short, the characters are people we know, perhaps uncomfortably, even ourselves, wrestling like Hamlet with the dichotomy of desire and weakness and inability for resolution.

Stories are ceaselessly open-ended, with readers left to their own interpretive nuances, not unlike life in its ambiguities. Again, a lot like what we find in Chekhov and Joyce.

Still, I miss the understated, yet resonant symbolism of short story masters like Lawrence, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Mansfield, their tales exploding into collective nuance, often replete with stylistic eloquence. In this, Fitzgerald remains my favorite, often quotable and always unforgettable.

I’m longing for a bit of good cheer, absent in Trevor, to soften a grim grayness. (Is it accidental he chose to follow Hardy into residing in Dorset?) After all, life isn’t all winter and following storm, the sun does peak through, and most humans, for all their liabilities, harbor irrevocable kindness.


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