William Carlos Williams says that the short story, which acts like a flare of a match struck in the dark, is the only real form for describing the briefness, the brokenness and the simultaneous wholeness of people’s lives.
If Gogol’s artful rambling was part of the point, William Trevor was the master of the kind of writing in which every word earns its place, pays its taxes and volunteers for good causes on the side. Over 20-odd novels and a dozen story collections, there’s no shortage of broken lives to choose from. In the middle of the first page of ‘The Piano Teacher’s Pupil’ we find the following paragraph:
Now in her early fifties, slender, softly spoken, with a quiet beauty continuing to distinguish her features, Miss Elizabeth Nightingale considered that she was fortunate in her life. She had inherited a house on the death of her father, and managed without skimping on what she earned as a piano teacher. She had known the passion of love.
How’s that for giving us the briefness, the brokenness and the simultaneous wholeness of someone’s life? For telling us what she believes about the fullness of her life and what she lacks, and how both can be true at once. In less than sixty words.
Published in Last Stories, Penguin, 2019