A solid ninth collection of 12 varied, moving stories by the Anglo-Irish master (most recently, the novel Death in Summer, 1998).
All the usual Trevor themes are here, with sometimes subtle, sometimes merely minimal variations. The outsider who threatens a complacent marriage or other settled existence assumes nicely differentiated forms in “Three People” (a perfectly awful title), in which a man and woman are both united and paralyzed by “the love that came . . . through their pitying of each other”; “A Friend in the Trade,” whose importunate closeness to a married couple ends in his virtual banishment from their orbit; and “Against the Odds,” in which a lonely widower is fleeced by a pragmatic traveling woman, who thereafter won’t be able to forget him. Solitude saturates “Of the Cloth,” an elderly rural priest’s lament for his faith’s inglorious present; and, notably, “The Virgin’s Gift,” in which a long-cloistered cleric is mysteriously sent back out into the world, to become the long-delayed comfort of his parents’ old age. A few stories—such as “Good News,” about a child “actress” seeking a more comforting world than the one created by her separated parents; “Low Sunday, 1950,” a tepid rehash of Trevor’s overrated novel Fools of Fortune; and “Le Visiteur,” a Maupassant-like anecdote set on a Channel island—seem simply inert on the page. But two pieces are superb. “The Mourning” takes an unassuming Irish lad to London for work, unwanted complicity with the IRA, and an ensuing lifetime of uncertainty as to whether he has acted as a decent man or as a coward and traitor. And the marvelous title story depicts the passive resignation of a rural family’s youngest son, who renounces his chances for happiness, returning to serve his widowed mother’s needs, knowing that “the hills had waited for him, claiming one of their own.”
Here and there the fabric shows signs of wear, yet the workmanship remains as exquisite, as sure and strong, as ever.