Sundays when he looked down from the pulpit at aged faces, at tired
eyes, heads turned to hear him better, and when his hand was afterwards
shaken at the door, he sensed the hope that had flickered into life
during the service: in all that was promised, in psalm and gospel, in
his own interpretations, the end was not an end.
by Shawn A. Miller
a BBC radio interview in which William Trevor was explaining the
aesthetic richness of hopeless love affairs, the celebrated short story
writer was confronted with a question masquerading as a statement.
"Happiness is boring," interviewer John Tusa said.
"Yes it is," Trevor replied.
course, is wrong about this, though his latest collection of stories, Cheating at Canasta,
shows the strength of the Irish-born writer's convictions. A smear of
color here and there, however, would have helped animate a rather
lifeless, torporous literary trudge.
in Cheating at Canasta
consist, roughly and in this order, of the following: A mechanic runs
over the daughter of a dissolute single mother (The Dressmaker’s Child);
a couple engages in a hopeless love affair in which the "the best that
love could do was not enough" (The
Room); an alcoholic revisits his childhood parish priest
demanding money to keep quiet about his having been molested (Men of Ireland); an
English widower returns to a restaurant in Italy in memory of his dead
wife (Cheating at Canasta);
a young man is beaten to death after leaving a nightclub (Bravado); a
15-year-old girl is nearly abducted by a sex predator (An Afternoon); an
old woman withdraws in darkness after her husband dies and her sons
sell the family farm to a golf course developer (At Olivehill); a
man is abandoned by his girlfriend who eventually comes back, at which
point he decides he doesn’t want her anyway (A Perfect Relationship);
a widower and a woman whose husband has left her get married, which
makes their children from the previous relationships unhappy (The Children); a
long-married man has lunch for the last time with a woman with whom he
had an affair (Old Flame);
a brother watches as his sister succumbs to a protracted, terminal
a man meets a friend he long thought was dead, which reminds him of the
time the two set a lame dog adrift at sea guaranteeing its death (Folie a Deux).
all this, is a lovely writer, inappropriate as the word may be. His
prose can be a pleasure, as when he writes,
with misfortune; she took no credit for it
forgiven what she couldn’t help, doing so as natural to him
as scorn and prickliness were in her
Her bare, pale
legs were like twigs stripped of their bark.
a skill for dropping readers immediately into the flow of a story at
the outset, revealing the richness of his fictional world vividly and
It is quite possible that a black humor is at work in Cheating at Canasta
that I’m not properly attuned to. But whatever the
book’s virtues, it felt simply bleak, not richly melancholic.
And that is a not inconsiderable difference.
A. Miller is
the founder/editor of
Criticalcompendium.com and a member of the National Book Critics
Circle. He lives in Northern California.
Publisher: Viking Adult
bio: Irish-born William
Trevor began his artistic
life a wood sculptor. In 1960, at the age of 32, Trevor joined a London
advertising agency at which point he began to write seriously. He
composed the novel The Old Boys - the first of 13 - entirely on company
time. Trevor has also penned 12 short story collections, two novellas,
a play, a children’s book and two works of nonfiction. Despite his
varied output, Trevor considers himself “a short story writer who also
writes the occasional novel, not the other way around.” Washington Post
book critic Michael Dirda has called Trevor “the best short story
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