“William Trevor Selected Stories” & “Before the Ruins”

A LitStack Rec

by Lauren Alwan & S.B.

In this LitStack Rec, we’re recommending William Trevor Selected Stories and Before The Ruins. Dive into the storytelling of William Trevor exploring the complexities of human nature. And don’t miss Before The Ruins, a gripping journey through time and mystery.

William Trevor Selected Stories and Before The Ruins

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A Writer's Notebook and Dangerous Women

Selected Stories, by William Trevor

A volume of stories by William Trevor is a reader’s must-have, and this 2009 collection brings together some of the great writer’s best—48 classic stories, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, and literary magazines such as Glimmer Train and the late, great, Antaeus.

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LitStack

Trevor, who died in 2016 at the age of 88, wrote scores of short stories and more than fifteen novels, and remains a revered writer. His prose is precise and filled with an insight of the tragic things people suffer, and are inclined to do, and these reveal his characters’ heartbreaking truths. Trevor writes with a legendary voice, tone, and detail that makes for a signature style:

From the table they always sat at, side by side so that they could see the street where the office workers were beginning to hurry by, she watched him patting a pocket of his jacket, making sure his cigarettes and lighter were there. Something was different this morning; on the walk from Chiltern Street she had sensed, for an instant only, that their love affair was not as it had been yesterday.

That’s from “A Bit on the Side,” and the moment—an instant in which “something was different,” leaps out from the ordinary details—and becomes as vivid for the reader as it is for the unnamed character facing the end of an affair.

A Well-made Solidness

The New York Times‘ Charles McGrath described Trevor’s prose as having a “well-made solidness,” and there is indeed a craftsman-like quality to these stories. In “A Day,” an upper-class woman, bereft over her childless marriage and a husband who’s having an affair, spends her days meticulously tending house, shopping, and drinking vodka. The story is part tragedy, part reverie:

Mrs. Lethwes dreams: a child again, she remains in the car while her brother, Charlie, visits the Indian family who run the supermarket. Kittens creep from beneath inverted flowerpots in the Bunches’ back yard, and she is there, in the yard too, looking for Charlie because he is visiting the Bunches now. ‘You mustn’t go bothering the Bunches,’ their mother upbraids him. ‘People are busy.’ There are rivers to cross, and the streets aren’t there any more; there is a seashore, and tents.

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LitStack

Some of Trevor’s most treasured stories are here: “The Piano Tuners’ Wives,” which tells of Owen Dromgould, the piano tuner caught between two wives, one living and one dead; “After Rain,” in which a young woman, Harriet, visits an Italian villa Io sola, alone, after a love affair has ended; and “Folie à Deux,” a haunting story about a chance encounter with a childhood friend and a secret shared in the past, one thought to be forgotten. The story is a perfect metaphor for the effect of Trevor’s stories: secrets will take on a life of their own, and even when thought to be buried, are alive in the imagination.

See William Trevor reading his work at New York’s 92nd Street Y series on YouTube, “Theresa’s Wedding,” and “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.”

William Trevor

The William Trevor Reader: An Introduction, at The Millions

And don’t miss the upcoming group read of William Trevor’s Collected Stories, “The William Trevor Reader: An Introduction,” at The Millions, led by author Adam O’Fallon Price. Price will read and write about each of the 85 stories in sequence, beginning with “A Meeting in Middle Age” on Tuesday, September 28. Learn more here.

—Lauren Alwan

Other Titles by William Trevor

Before the Ruins, by Victoria Gosling

I love it when I get recommendations from friends, when even though the books may be outside my standard genre, I end up really enjoying them. Such was the case with Victoria Gosling’s debut novel, Before the Ruins.

I’m not sure how to categorize this novel. It’s not really a mystery, nor a thriller. It has suspense, but it’s more a low burn than a hot blaze. There are dead bodies, but it’s not a crime novel. It’s completely set in the here and now (well, more or less) – nothing truly supernatural, or otherworldly. Definitely not horror, in the genre sense. Not grandiose enough to be considered card-carrying literary fiction.

Image of Victoria Gosling
Victoria Gosling

What it is, is good. Enveloping without being cloying; involving without being all-consuming.

It’s a character novel, where what happens is important because it happens to these characters, because of its impact on these characters. And at a time when it seems every novel is trying to outdo the next – be more bombastic, more sensational, more bizarre, more gut-wrenching – the strength of this novel is that while it is engaging, it is also believable. The stretch in this novel is deep, not wide.

The book is narrated by Andrea – Andy – who we meet as an 18-year-old in 1996, daughter of an alcoholic single mother in Wiltshire, England. This is her story, intertwined with her relationships with her friends Peter and Em and her boyfriend, Marcus. And the day they meet David. The day – the summer – that changes all their lives. But this – these – changes are not earth-shattering; they are the type of changes that happen when something unexpected is introduced into lives that have pretty much been moving along unchallenged.

This is the story of aimless, idle youth, dancing on the edge of becoming. It is the story of friendships – deep, enduring, ebbing and flowing, slipping into dormancy and then reigniting. It is a story of loss, and growth, of tragedy and strength, of running away but not far enough, of reinventing yourself only to find this was who you were all along.

Okay, that’s enough of being vague. But I’m also not going to be specific. A synopsis of what happens may spur some interest (and that action is very compelling!), but it will be the characters that keep you turning the page. Andy. Peter. Em. Marcus. David. You will become vested in them, and they will break your heart, and make it soar.

Yeah, I love recommendations (thanks, Aubrey!) – and now here’s one for you. If you love character-driven novels, pick up a copy of Before the Ruins. You won’t be disappointed.

— S.B.

Other Titles By Victoria Gosling

Other LitStack Resources

Be sure and look at our other LitStack Recs for our recommendations on books you should read, as well as these reviews by Lauren Alwan, and these reviews by Sharon Browning.

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