William Trevor: Death in Jerusalem (A St. Patrick’s Day Short Story Extra #1)

As in the Via Dolorosa it had been difficult to rid the imagination of the surroundings that now were present, of the exotic Greek Orthodox trappings, the foreign-looking priests, the oriental smell. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, he’d kept thinking, for somehow the church seemed more the church of the kings than of Joseph and Mary and their child. Afterwards they returned to Jerusalem, to the Tomb of the Virgin and the Garden of Gethsemane. ‘It could have been anywhere,’ he heard the quiet, bespectacled sceptic remarking in Gethsemane. ‘They’re only guessing.’

People of faith populate so many of William Trevor’s short stories, In most cases, though, the faith is in crisis, it’s tempered with significant doubt. By many standards, it could be considered weak.

In “Death in Jerusalem”, Francis lives at home with his mother and runs the family hardware store. He doesn’t do “great” things like his brother, Paul, a priest who successfully raises money for a boys’ home in America. Paul appears to be successful at anything he does.

Paul convinces Francis to take a trip to the Holy Land where Paul continues to have to make things “look good” for Francis’ fragile faith.

Something else is also interesting about many of Trevor’s characters including Francis. Even if their faith is fragile, they never completely let go in spite of doubts and disappointments. It begs the question: whose faith is stronger? Francis or Paul? Is a faith that is hanging by a thread stronger than a faith that requires no “hanging on” at all?

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This story is included in The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories edited by none other than William Trevor. I read this yesterday for St. Patrick’s Day though it’s not getting posted until today.

While William Trevor remains a huge favorite of mine, as I look through this anthology, I’m finding a wealth of great stories by numerous great authors. I couldn’t just read one. Stay tuned for another “St. Patrick’s Day” story.

 

Anniversary #7!

It’s the seventh anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and as I have been doing the last few years, here are my top ten favorite short stories of 2018 with quotations from each of them. I have no method of rating them – they are just the ones I liked the best. And as happens with many of my top ten lists, the top two could be interchangeable on any given day depending on my mood – both of them are fantastic stories!

10. Lions, Harts, Leaping Does – J. F. Powers

He suffered the piercing white voice of the Apocalypse to echo in his soul: But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. And St. Bernard, fiery-eyed in a white habit, thundered at him from the twelfth century:”Hell is paved with the bald pates of priests!”

9.  The Little Regiment – Stephen Crane

Ultimately the night deepened to the tone of black velvet. The outlines of the fireless camp were like the faint drawings upon ancient tapestry. The glint of a rifle, the shine of a button, might have been of threads of silver and gold sewn upon the fabric of the night. There was little presented to the vision, but to a sense more subtle there was discernible in the atmosphere something like a pulse; a mystic beating which would have told a stranger of the presence of a giant thing – the slumbering mass of regiments and batteries.

8.  Faith – William Trevor

Afterwards, Bartholomew told himself that what had occurred must surely be no more than a mood of petulance, an eruption from his half-stifled impatience with the embroidery and frills that dressed the simplicity of truth with invasive, sentimental stories that somehow made faith easier, the hymns he hated. For Bartholomew, the mystery that was the source of all spiritual belief, present through catastrophe and plague and evil, was a strength now too, and more than it had ever been. Yet there was disquiet, a stirring in his vocation he had brought upon himself and wished he had not…Bartholomew – not knowing what he should otherwise do – continued to visit the lonely and the sick, to repeat the Te Deum, the Creed, the Litany. He felt he should not and yet he did.

7.  The Virgin’s Gift – William Trevor

He begged that his melancholy might be lifted, that the confusion which had come in the night might be lightened with revelation. These were the days of the year when his spirits were most joyful, when each hour that passed brought closer the celebration of the Saviour’s birth. Why had this honoring of a season been so brutally upset?

6.  Graillis’s Legacy – William Trevor

His safe employment had been taken for granted; in time promotion would mean occupancy of a squat grey landmark in the town, the house above the bank, with railings and a grained hall door. She had married into that; books had never been an interest they shared, had never been, for her, a need.

The woman for whom they were had often been noticed by Graillis about the town, coming out of a shop, getting into her car, not the kind of woman he would ever have known.

5.  Death of a Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

Finally we saw him; from a distance he resembled the towel we sometimes threw down for second base.

4.  The Reach – Stephen King

“We joined hands, children, and if there were times when we wondered what it was all for, or if there was ary such a thing as love at all, it was only because we had heard the wind and the waters on long winter nights, and we were afraid.

“No, I’ve never felt I needed to leave the island. My life was here. The Reach was wider in those days.”

3.  Resurrection of a Life – William Saroyan

I was this boy and he is dead now, but he will be prowling through the city when my body no longer makes a shadow upon the pavement, and if it is not this boy it will be another, myself again, another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.

2.  The School – Donald Barthelme

Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical-fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

1.  My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

At night I watch the news programs. I watch the war from day to day. It’s a big burning war on a small screen. It rains bombs and the flames go higher. Sometimes I lean over and touch the war with the flat of my hand. I wait for my hand to die.

William Trevor: The Virgin’s Gift (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 52)

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He begged that his melancholy might be lifted, that the confusion which had come in the night might be lightened with revelation. These were the days of the year when his spirits were most joyful, when each hour that passed brought closer the celebration of the Saviour’s birth. Why had this honoring of a season been so brutally upset?

During his 59 years, Michael, in William Trevor’s short story “The Virgin’s Gift”, has been visited by the Virgin Mary three times in dreams. For the first time, he was a young man and she called him away from his parents and their farm to the abbey to become a monk. For the second time, he was called away from his abbey to solitude on an island off the coast of Ireland. It’s a solitude he grows to love:

Such entanglements of truth and falsity – and of good and evil, God and the devil – Michael dwelt upon in the hermitage he had created, while the seasons changed and the days of his life one by one extinguished.

For a third and final time, Michael is called away from a place in which he has grown comfortable. He doesn’t understand but finds some comfort by comparing his own journey of confusion to the Virgin Mary’s in the Christmas story.

His journey only makes sense at the end of it.

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Merry Christmas everyone! I usually include a Christmas story in my Deal Me In list just for the fun of seeing when it shows up. Because I forgot to do that for 2018, I decided that I would choose one for my final Wild Card thinking that it would fall somewhere close to the end of the year. But the Deal Me In fates saved it for the very last week so I’m able to actually post it on Christmas Day! “The Virgin’s Gift” is included in William Trevor: Selected Stories. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

William Trevor: Graillis’s Legacy (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 46)

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William Trevor often deals with protagonists that have unfulfilled desires, less than perfect marriages. Trevor often manages to sympathize with these protagonists by keeping some aspect of their character noble.

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Graillis takes a letter to an attorney in a town miles away from his home. The letter indicates that a woman has left a substantial amount of money to Graillis in her will. We also know that Graillis is a widower and the woman with the will is not his wife. Graillis does not want the money from the other woman but only requests a small token such as an ashtray or a china plate.

Trevor movingly explains the emotions Graillis feels cutting to the core of his personality but only explaining the relationship between him and the other woman close to the end of the story. Graillis left a potentially lucrative job at the bank to become a librarian much to the dismay of his wife:

His safe employment had been taken for granted; in time promotion would mean occupancy of a squat grey landmark in the town, the house above the bank, with railings and a grained hall door. She had married into that; books had never been an interest they shared, had never been, for her, a need.

The woman for whom they were had often been noticed by Graillis about the town, coming out of a shop, getting into her car, not the kind of woman he would ever have known.

Much treasured conversations about books appear to be the extent of Graillis’s relationship with the other woman – but it was a need not fulfilled by his marriage.

As melancholy as this story is, it’s one for any book lover. As a male book lover, I found something about this story especially touching and sad.

I read this story when I selected the Two of Diamonds for Week 46 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project. It’s the third wild card I’ve chosen which means there is one more to go with not very many weeks left. My Deal Me In 2018 list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

William Trevor: Lost Ground (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 29)

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He had been affronted by the visit, but he didn’t let it show. Why should a saint of his Church appear to a Protestant boy in a neighbourhood that was overwhelmingly Catholic, when there were so many Catholics to choose from?

It’s Week 29 of Deal Me In 2018 and I selected the Two of Spades – another wild card and that means another William Trevor story. This time I picked “Lost Ground” and as to be expected with Trevor, it’s wonderful.

Of all the conflicts in the world, the one that baffles me is the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. It seems to me they have more in common than they do differences; however, that could be said about almost any human conflict. But this conflict is the backdrop for “Lost Ground”.

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Milton Leeson, a Protestant teenager in 1989, receives a holy kiss from St. Rosa in an apple orchard and feels called to preach about it to his surrounding neighborhood. Both Leeson’s militantly Protestant family and the neighborhood’s priest become uneasy about his calling. While the purpose or topic of Milton’s preaching is never specifically named, Trevor seems to point toward reconciliation as the message Milton receives from St. Rosa. A reconciliation that never occurs in the story.

Most of Trevor’s stories have a tinge of sadness or melancholy to them. While hope is not completely dismissed, it usually doesn’t stand right out in the open. It might show up in the supernatural dream of a teenage boy but not quite in the real world in which he lives.

“Lost Ground” is included in William Trevor: Selected Stories. My Deal Me In 2018 list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

A Top Ten List…so far

Since we’re at the halfway point of 2018, I thought I would put together a top ten list of my favorite short stories so far. I have no scoring technique. This is based only on my personal likes and dislikes so at any point another story could jump to the top. We’ll see what makes it to the final top ten list in about six months. Here’s where we stand now, though:

10.) A Jury of Her Peers – Susan Glaspell

9.) Blood Burning Moon – Jean Toomer

8.) Evenings at Home – Elizabeth Hardwick

7.) The Gift – Janice Holt Giles

6.) Roses, Rhododendron – Alice Adams

5.) I’d Love You to Want Me – Viet Than Nguyen

4.) The Reach – Stephen King

3.) Death of A Right Fielder – Stuart Dybek

2.) Faith – William Trevor

1.) My Son the Murderer – Bernard Malamud

I guess I also reserve the right to change some of these around if no other stories take their place. I had a difficult time deciding where stories 2, 3 and 4 fell.

Do you rank the stories/books you read? What short stories have been your favorite so far in 2018?

William Trevor: Faith (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 24)

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Afterwards, Bartholomew told himself that what had occurred must surely be no more than a mood of petulance, an eruption from his half-stifled impatience with the embroidery and frills that dressed the simplicity of truth with invasive, sentimental stories that somehow made faith easier, the hymns he hated. For Bartholomew, the mystery that was the source of all spiritual belief, present through catastrophe and plague and evil, was a strength now too, and more than it had ever been. Yet there was disquiet, a stirring in his vocation he had brought upon himself and wished he had not…Bartholomew – not knowing what he should otherwise do – continued to visit the lonely and the sick, to repeat the Te Deum, the Creed, the Litany. He felt he should not and yet he did.

It’s Week 24 of my Deal Me In 2018 short story project and I finally selected a Two – the Two of Hearts to be exact – which I’ve designated as a Wild Card for which I pick whatever story I want. I’ve been preparing to read a William Trevor story whenever I selected a Two so here it is. And though I’m not surprised, “Faith” is one of Trevor’s many masterpieces.

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Bartholomew, a passive clergyman and his sister with the prickly personality, Hester, move to a small parish in Oscarey outside Dublin – mostly at the doings of Hester. The congregation is few and made up mostly of elderly people. So in a sense its a dying church. Bartholomew suffers what might be called a crisis of faith but continues to conduct his duties as a pastor. Hester confronts head-on her own terminal illness.

Trevor makes these characters and situations so real and intriguing that just reading the story is enough. A reader doesn’t have to analyze anything for the story to be satisfying. But then there’s that title. It at least makes me want to ask a few questions. Does it take more faith to move on in the face of looming doubt or to move on in the face of looming death? And is faith the same thing as courage? I find both of these characters courageous in their own way.

This story is included in the collection William Trevor: Selected Stories. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.