Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"A Day" by William Trevor

"On the mottled worktop in the kitchen the meat is where Mrs Lethwes left it, the fat partly cut away, the knife still separating it from one of the chops. The potatoes she scraped earlier in the day are in a saucepan of cold water, the peas she shelled in another."

Still Life with Ham by Philippe Rousseau via Metmuseum.org

It is hard for me not to include the final two sentences of Trevor's immaculate story, "A Day", the penultimate piece in his 1996 collection After Rain. The lines are truly heartbreaking, but only if you've woken with Mrs Lethwes first, traveled with her to market and coffee shop, watched her weed the garden, listened to her chat with the housekeeper and to her thoughts. She regrets her childlessness, tries to reconcile herself to her husband's affair. Her anxieties and suppositions assault her, deepen, become murkier, more complex and more urgent as the day turns to night and she prepares Mr Lethwes's dinner.

I first read the story leaning over the kitchen counter, absorbed completely by Mrs Lethwes's unease. At the last two lines I cried even though I didn't want to. It's as high a recommendation as I can give any story, and I won't try to explain the reaction away. 

But, for craft's sake, I think it's safe to say that my reaction to the end (and I know it's not unique) has to do with the completeness of our immersion in Mrs Lethwes's consciousness, the steady revelation of her regrets and hopes, and with the stunning point-of-view shift, the sudden, dramatic bloom at the very end.  

I feel so lucky to have witnessed it.

Powell's, Amazon, Google Books

P.S. Thanks to Sarah, Aaron, and Jane for introducing me to Trevor. 
P.P.S. Jhumpa Lahiri reads "A Day" for the New Yorker fiction podcast

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