William Trevor, the New Yorker and dismissive critics

William Trevor

William Trevor (© Guardian)

So it’s fair to say that the reaction to William Trevor’s latest New Yorker short story has been a bit mixed.

Firstly, and most importantly, I have yet to read “The Women”, which is published in the New Yorker‘s latest edition.

I aspire to having either a subscription to the hard-copy of the magazine, or even better a digital sub to the iPad version which comes with access to its entire 90-year back catalogue.

I’m not there yet. Stuff like food and heating oil, unfortunately, have been taking precedent in the weekly outgoings over the past while.

(And point of fact, before buying an iPad subscription, I will need an iPad.)

Still, I keep an eye on the latest news coming out of NY HQ, and its long love affair with Irish writers continued this week with the inclusion of a William Trevor story in its fiction section.

It concerns a girl who is sent to boarding school, where she encounters two mysterious older women. (Full story behind a paywall over here.)

It’s fair to say that the reaction has been less than overwhelmingly positive.

Blogger and writer Clifford Garstang wrote:

If you are the one person on the planet who has not read a story or seen a movie or television program about an unwed mother who has given her child up for adoption and then later sought out the grown child, you might find this story by the great William Trevor appealing. Otherwise, I’d be very surprised if you do … William Trevor is one of our greatest short story writers, but this one seems to have been written in his sleep.

Praised and slammed in one short sentence, although I would guess damnation like that is what most writers aspire to.

A blog dedicated to critiquing New Yorker stories (which must surely be a candidate for “The Internet as Mass of Niches, Exhibit A”) was also unimpressed:

Long digressions into Cotell’s and Keble’s perspectives prove unnecessary and often confusing, cluttered with details intended to provide motivation and backstory that only end up bleeding the main story arc of tension.

(Incidentally, a five-year-old blog post entitled “The Ten Best Living Short Story Writers” includes the following throwaway dismissal of Trevor, which may to some be equally pertinent today:

I think I’ll never be able to like William Trevor as much as the editors at The New Yorker do


Contrast all that with the reaction from The Mookse and the Gripes:

It was a beautiful thing to find a new William Trevor story in this week’s issue of The New Yorker. To my knowledge William Trevor has not published anything anywhere in the last four years. I assumed that, at age 84, he was done, as much as I hoped this day would arrive. I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The one thing that everyone seems to agree upon is that Trevor’s status as the world’s greatest living short story writer is challenged only by Alice Munro.

All of which is completely arbitrary, anyway. When the label “greatest living” is applied to anyone, in any field, it’s generally to someone with the weight of years and experience and productivity behind them.

But how is it possible to rank Trevor as better or worse than Munro, or Denis Johnson, or Yiyun Li, or anyone else you might like to mention. It’s all subjective, right? And when it comes to great writing, does the “living” bit really matter?

9 thoughts on “William Trevor, the New Yorker and dismissive critics

  1. We share that New Yorker aspiration. And the “living” bit only really matters in that when I read it, I feel better about the world knowing that they’re still in it.

    Sorry to see you didn’t get any blog recommendations in the comments on your previous post, I was hoping to peek over your shoulder and find a few to shovel into my feed reader’s gaping maw.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rosie.

      The New Yorker does have a certain cachet. I guess 90 years of history can do that for you – it will be interesting to see which digital-native publisher lasts the distance, although that’s probably a task for a graduate student’s thesis in the year 2095.

      Your name wasn’t linked – do you have a blog/Twitter/anything I can follow?


      1. Ah yes, I’ve been there several times over the years. I remember going to yours, Sigla and Annie Rhiannon regularly enough back in the day (i.e. before joining Twitter and watching my attention span recede to single-clause sentences…)

  2. It is hard to say who is the best writer especially as all the writers mentioned tend to approach their stories from different angles as for Trevor he may is the most consistent over alter time he has writen and as I have often said shame he hasn’t won the booker yet all the best stu

  3. The New Yorker is only 120 dollars a year, well worth it, I am not exactly rolling in dough but the TNY is well worth it.

    1. At $120 a year it certainly is value, gatonegro. Works out at about €1.90 per issue. There’s a blog in that, surely…

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I think in this story there are two fantasies— one definite, the other doubtful— that have spawned a third. Cecelia’s father has nurtured a fantasy for most of her life: that her mother (who many not have been her mother), left for another man. Two odd biddies, are convinced (they they may be fantasizing as lonely ladies) that Cecelia belongs to one of them. Cecelia, moving into adulthood, comes to understand that adults prefer fantasies when it comes to painful matters. And so she will do nothing to destroy this web of pretend that is about her.

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