William Trevor has long been acclaimed as one of the finest short story writers in the discipline, and After Rain confirms that reputation. This is a stunning and affecting collection of twelve perfectly crafted stories, all exploring the lives of the lost and the lonely. With an unrivalled skill, he insightfully illuminates these quiet lives that have been thrown off course by circumstance or self-betrayal.
This collection is filled with children failing parents and children being failed by parents. In Timothy’s Birthday, a couple wait for the annual visit from their son for his birthday lunch. Jealous of the contentedness of his parents’ calm and measured life, Timothy sends a friend in his place, with unusual consequences.
Child’s Play is a sharp little story featuring a pair of stepsiblings who retreat to the attic to act out the dramas of the adult relationships they see all around them. Inventing a fictitious hotel, they check in and play at the petty rows and recurring arguments between the very adults they cannot understand. Their games are a desperate attempt to bring some structure to their lives, which have been turned upside down. The story itself would be amusing, were it not for the pain and incomprehension that the children’s imaginative games are masking.
The easy companionship that had allowed them to sip cocktails and sign the register of the Hotel Grand Splendide had been theirs by chance, a gift thrown out from other people’s circumstances. Helplessness was their natural state
In Marrying Damien, a happy middle-aged couple welcome their feckless drifter friend Damien back into their home, only to watch their daughter, now in her twenties, fall for the man she has known since childhood. They love Damien, but not as a potential son-in-law and their dilemma highlights both the cracks in a life-long friendship and the lack of trust they have in their child.
In Gilbert’s Mother a parent is again concerned for the choices being made by her child, but here Trevor heightens the stakes as the mother in question becomes convinced that her ‘strange’ son, Gilbert, could in fact be a criminal. Trevor keeps any answers to himself, but paints a convincing portrait of a mother torn between love and hatred for her own son.
She did not want to sleep because sleeping meant waking up and there would be the moment when reality began to haunt again. Her role was only to accept: he had a screw loose, she had willed him to be born.
Trevor is adept at exploring the darkness behind the everyday, without resorting to melodrama. In Lost Ground, the longest and most striking story in this collection, a young Protestant boy becomes convinced that he has seen an apparition of a Catholic saint.
Despite his family’s shame and protestations, he continues to believe and to tell his story to anyone who will listen, bringing tragic and lasting consequences on the family as a whole.
There is a sense in this collection of secrets that are being barely kept, or truths being willfully hidden in plain sight. In A Day, a woman is unable to confront her husband about the fact that he is having an affair, because she feels responsible for it, having been unable to give him a child. Another affair ruins a relationship in A Friendship, just not the relationship that the reader has been expecting.
In The Piano Tuner’s Wives, the second wife of a blind piano tuner tries to rewrite the memory of the first wife by describing the world around them in a completely different way.
Some time later, on another day, when he referred to one of the sisters at the convent in Meena as having cheeks as flushed as an eating apple, Belle said that the nun was chalky white these days, her face pulled down and sunken.
The Potato Dealer features a young girl, who has become pregnant with a visiting priest’s baby. To save face, her family marry her off to an older man, making a deal with him that treats her as they would goods at market.
Eight days after their conversation on the road the two men shook hands, as they did when potatoes were bought and sold. Three weeks went by and then there was the wedding.
Years later, the girl uses the only currency she has, the truth about her daughter’s father, to bring about an unexpected change in her relationship with this man to whom she been married yet still barely knows.
This is one of Trevor’s great gifts – a sleight of hand whereby a story appears to be travelling in one direction – but ends up at an entirely different destination. He has the ability to surprise, to lead the reader into a story and then turn the narrative on its head through a deft handling of plot and a considered sense of control.
In the beautifully structured Widows – two widowed sisters must deal with an unfair and unwanted bill, only to find that this unpaid invoice, and how they plan to deal with it, symbolises the jealousy that has always lain at the heart of their relationship.
As expected, Trevor’s prose here is beautifully measured and carefully considered. There is not one word out of place and not a word wasted. Rather, he creates a wonderful ambiguity that adds a density and depth to these stories, equal to what you would find in a novel.
With such care for his characters and the modesty of his prose, Trevor has created a vivid portrait of lonely people, trying to make the best of the unexpected and changing lives they find themselves inhabiting. His characters are recognisable and universal. As his blind piano tuner notes,
All that could not be taken from him. And it didn’t matter if, overnight, the colour had worn off the kitchen knobs. It didn’t matter if the china light-shade in the kitchen had a crack he hadn’t heard about before. What mattered was damage done to something as fragile as a dream.
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About the Author:
William Trevor KBE (24 May 1928 – 20 November 2016) was an Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer. One of the elder statesmen of the Irish literary world, he was widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in the English language.
He won the Whitbread Prize three times and was nominated five times for the Booker Prize, the last for his novel Love and Summer (2009), which was also shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2011.
His name was also mentioned in relation to the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2014, Trevor was bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.
Trevor resided in Devon, South West England, from the 1950s until his death at the age of 88. His last collection Last Stories was published posthumously in 2018.
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