And now he’s dead.
William Trevor, the last great short story writer of the 20th century — so, very possibly, the last great short story writer — died on Sunday at 88. Trevor had an uncanny ability to confer dignity and elegance on the ordinary sadness at the heart of life, and in his best work the everyday miseries we fail to observe because they are so quotidian are elevated to the kind of grand tragedy other writers take entire novels to convey. (“I’m a short-story writer who writes novels when he can’t get them into short stories,” he once said of his own longer work, but his novels were pretty good too.)
“Writers seem to belong to two kinds,” says Yiyun Li in this collection of tributes. “There are those who insist on taking center stage. These writers may be brilliant, or didactic, or eccentric, or arrogant, but in any case a reader is told to take a seat: his job is to be dazzled, to be awed, even to be intimidated or bullied into passive acceptance. And then there are those rare writers — Chekhov, for instance, and William Trevor — whose egolessness makes us forget that we are reading a master’s creation; rather, it’s more like living through the story along with the characters, whose pains, flaws, follies and predicaments are ours, too.”
If you get your hands on a copy of The Collected Stories as soon as you can you will be able to take it to any kind of family gathering you might be forced to attend in the near future and use it to set yourself in the corner, away from the conversation. It will be maybe the best gift you can give yourself right now. (Selected Stories works just as well, although it is shorter.) Trevor was a remarkable talent whose work you will read, or re-read, in a quiet admiration of which you will only be conscious after you have finished.