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?