Suspend Your Disbelief

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snowy park

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How often does it happen? Once or twice, maybe? You’re in a bookstore, you’re at the library, drifting among the stacks, your eye glazed over not with boredom but indecision, because you simply cannot decide what it is you want to read next. Reading something next, that’s the easy part, particularly if you’re one of those readers for whom the prospect of not reading something, anything, is just, well, unthinkable. You read one book or one story, and when you’ve finished that, you read another. It’s like breathing in a way, one breath and then another, and another. But on this day, this particular afternoon in February, you’ve hit a wall. What next? What next? Outside the long wall of windows, down in the little park below the library where in warmer months parents bring their young children to picnic by the creek, the benches and tables are capped with snow. Something has fallen into one of the vents in the floor, and when the heat clicks on, whatever it is – a scrap of paper, a note – whatever it is trapped there rattles and taps, almost sleepily, lifted on a whisper of air.

trevor_lucy_gaultAnd then by pure chance your drifting eye falls upon flowers, a handful of blue hydrangeas crowded in a tiny box on the spine of a book jacket, on the lowest shelf, right down near the carpet. Any other day you might have missed them, these flowers, but not today, as luck would have it. The Story of Lucy Gault, the book is called, by William Trevor. A title as simple and lovely in its way as those hydrangeas, by an author whose work you’ve never read before. By the time you’ve finished that first opening paragraph you’re hooked, and when you’ve finished this book – and it will break your heart, this book, it will – you’ll move on to Felicia’s Journey and Fools of Fortune and Love and Summer. You’ll tell your friends, Read The Story of Lucy Gault, read Fool’s of Fortune.

trevor_selected_storiesYears later–this year in fact–when William Trevor publishes his Selected Stories, you’ll read that too, and marvel, as I have all this past month, picking through this gorgeous, truly masterful collection. You’ll tell your friends: Oh, I’ve just read the most amazing story. “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.” “A Bit on the Side.” “The Hill Bachelors.” “Old Flame.” One story and then another. Amazed, still, at your great good fortune.

And to think that it all began with those blue flowers.

Join the Discussion

  • Lee Thomas

    A dear friend gave me Trevor’s Selected Stories recently, and we discussed the brilliance and subtlety of “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” over lunch. I’m so happy to read this post, and so glad that a writer as original and insightful as Trevor put out this collection. The wonderful thing about the stories is you can dip in and out of them as you have the time, and they remain with you long afterward – as you say, Travis, you become an evangelist for the work.

  • There can never be too much praise (or evangelism) for Trevor. I have a lot of mixed feelings about my MFA experience, even all these years later, but one of the indisputable positives was the introduction to William Trevor’s work that came with the very first reading list. That was a gift.

    “A Bit on the Side.” I can still remember reading it for the first time in The New Yorker. And then, of course, in the collection for which it became the title story.

  • Samara

    Trevor changed my life! Working in a used bookstore a few years ago I grabbed a beat up ex library copy of Beyond the Pale that was destined for the recycle bin. I had never heard of him but something about it caught my eye and I fell in love the second I began “Downstairs at Fitzgerald’s.”

  • Lee Thomas

    I think part of discovering good writing, and authors you happen upon whose entire body of work you then devour, is putting yourself in exactly those situations Samara and Travis describe. You wander through bookstores, you browse the cast-offs at thrift stores or used bookstores, you give writers you’ve never heard of a chance by actually reading them. Trevor is by no means an unknown, but there are plenty of worthy books out there that may – for one reason or another – have slipped through the cracks. It feels remarkable, like sheer good fortune, when you stumble upon something amazing that you’ve never heard of before.

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