Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

"She should have died a child; she knows that but has never said it to the nuns, has never included in the story of herself the days that felt like years when she lay among the fallen stones. It would have lowered their spirits, although it lifts her own because instead of nothing there is what there is" (227).

This line is from the end of William Trevor's short 2002 novel The Story of Lucy Gault. Lucy should indeed have died as a child, but she lives, a little ghost-like, waiting for her parents to return. 

The plot is fantastically intriguing, the kind of story that would sell magazines or end up as a Lifetime movie or a 48 Hours news special. It's the early 1920's in Ireland. Lucy is nine and lives with her parents at Lahardane, the family estate. Irish nationals try to burn it down one night. The dogs are poisoned. Captain Gault, Lucy's father, shoots one of the young men. He tries to apologize, but the family must leave. Lucy's mother is English, and they decide to return there. The day before the move, Lucy  runs away and hides in the woods. She breaks her leg and cannot return. Everyone believes she's drowned in the sea. Her parents leave, broken-hearted, and vow never to return. 

Lucy survives and is eventually found, but her family is long-gone, and each day, it seems a little less certain they will ever return. 

Trevor writes from the points-of-view of Lucy, her parents the care-takers who find her, the lawyer who searches for the Gaults once Lucy is found, and the young man who eventually falls in love with her. Every character is revealed as possessing an enormous fount of secret love, longing, and regret. Each wants to connect with someone or something that will always remain at least a little bit hidden. Each is acutely conscious that breaks are permanent, that even the most intense relationships are imperfect and incomplete. Their love for one another is the longing kind--mawing, heart-opening wishing that beautifully echoes every human experience of loss. 

Trevor's portrayal of loss is stunning, in part, because of physical things that re-appear, not as symbols, but, more truly, as comforts that draw us back to old times, old loves we never forget. There are hydrangeas in the yard, the old house in the woods, the dark kitchen, and the boiled egg that is Lucy's first meal when she is re-discovered, all beautifully rendered signs of a surprising continuity.

Powell's (with Alice McDermott's Review), Amazon, Google Books

P.S. It's not all mellow, sad-sack longing. The love story is fantastic!

P.P.S. I'm back after months away! I'm engaged, moved, have an M.F.A. and a new job. But I haven't stopped reading. I'll be posting weekly now, every Sunday (Sunday mornings, I hope).

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