Friday, August 13, 2010

A Bit On the Side by William Trevor

I haven't been reading much fiction lately, and sadly, I can't remember the last time I read a book of short stories.

And now, thanks to reading William Trevor's book A Bit on the Side, I've been reminded all over again of the elegance and artistry of a really good short story.

An Irish writer, Trevor has a gift for describing how regular people face the harsh challenges of life. His touching and elegantly worded stories address our fallibility, our loneliness, our fundamental weakness.

His work reminds me a bit of Thomas Hardy, except his characters aren't quite such hapless victims of fate. His story Sacred Statues is a textbook Hardy-esque tragedy, a slow, grinding calamity where the reader hopes against all odds that things will work out for the main characters--yet the odds play out just as expected. Sitting with the Dead, the first story in this collection, is a brief and moving vignette about a woman greedy for what marriage might be, who paid for it with the best years of her life.

Readers familiar with the classic short stories of O. Henry will love William Trevor too. Let me qualify that: lovers of O. Henry will love William Trevor more, because they won't be forced to suspend disbelief and swallow implausible plot twists.

These stories were a gift to read, and I can't recommend them enough. If you're a fan of short fiction, you'll enjoy this book thoroughly.

Highly, highly recommended.

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