Welcome to the William Trevor Reader! Here’s the plan: once a week, every week, I will read one story from William Trevor’s The Collected Stories and write about it. There are 85 stories in this volume, comprising 1,261 total pages, so this will be no small undertaking. I will read and write about them in sequence, beginning with “A Meeting in Middle Age” and ending with “Kathleen’s Field.” This project—generously assuming completion—should take around a year and a half, with the final entry logged sometime in the spring or early summer of 2023.
“Why would someone do this?” you may be justifiably wondering. And perhaps more pressingly, “Why would I read it?” On the first count, my main impetus for the project is simply a recent desire to reread The Collected Stories. Trevor was a major influence on my development as a writer, especially of short stories, and I read most of these, some many times, over the last 15 or so years. But I’ve forgotten many of them and have a strong, inexplicable urge to encounter the body or work in one consecutive go. Writing this will force me to read and think about one Trevor story every few days
As a brief and possibly superfluous introduction: William Trevor—born 1928 in Michaelstown, Ireland; died 2016 in Somerset, England— is considered by many readers to be the unrivaled master of the short story in the 20th century. Published in 1992, his absolutely mammoth The Collected Stories, contains greatest hits from seven short story collections published between the years 1967 and 1990: The Day We Got Drunk on Cake and Other Stories, The Ballroom of Romance and Other Stories, Angels at the Ritz and Other Stories, Lovers of Their Time and Other Stories, Beyond the Pale and Other Stories, The News From Ireland and Other Stories, and Family Sins and Other Stories. Some 50 of his stories appeared in The New Yorker during his life.
The towering greatness of Trevor’s literary biography speaks for itself, and yet why him, why now?—questions I’ve asked myself throughout this project’s conception. I guess, for one thing, I’ve been trying to refocus on short story writing lately, after several years almost exclusively working on novels, and Trevor’s work—his impeccable craft, taste, and narrative instincts—feel potentially nourishing. Also, in middle age, I find myself wanting to look again at things that moved me when I was (relatively) young. Finally, during a time when cultural tastes and publishing trends shift almost daily, there is something reassuring about sitting with a writer who had the kind of career Trevor had: nothing flashy, just the steady accretion of work through the decades.
William Trevor, as both public figure and author, is almost wholly irrelevant to the present moment, and this feels to me like a selling point. Things are too relevant right now. The news is too relevant; the way we live our lives is about relevance, constant grinding timeliness, a rolling deadline never fully met. And the art we consume sometimes seems marketed purely on the basis of how directly and loudly it speaks to the moment. Trevor is not only not of this moment, he really wasn’t even of his own moment. His art is an art of loneliness, and it is timeless in both senses: being of no times and therefore of all times. He is not, in the dreaded parlance of publishing marketing copy, necessary, and that’s what I’m looking for—I have enough necessary things in my life already. And anyway, he is necessary, in the sense that great art is necessary for living a good life.
But again, why should you read this? Well, maybe you’re a Trevor fan and want to receive weekly thoughts about his craft—I’m often surprised by how little he’s currently discussed. And even if you’re not a Trevor reader, I’ll often be using his stories as an entry point to discuss larger areas of craft and aesthetics. Ideally, this series will be of interest to someone who has never read a single word of the Trevor canon. But the truth is, as I begin this journey, I don’t really know—and that feels right, much like the hesitant, hopeful feeling of beginning a story. Like all good stories do, this project will have to, in some ineffable way, justify its own existence.
And hey, if you have the time and a few extra bucks, I’d like to invite you to buy The Collected Stories and read along. We begin next Tuesday, in earnest, with “A Meeting in Middle Age.” See you then.