William Trevor was one of the best short story writers of his generation. Possibly in a class of his own. This posthumously-published collection, Last Stories, is beautiful because it showcases how he was one of the rare writers who write women characters well. His endings always leave thinking space for readers. And his works are best read slowly and carefully so as to not miss perfectly-timed details.
There are ten stories in this collection. The recurring themes of loneliness, death, betrayal, delusion, and loss might make them sound rather bleak but his spare prose and concise narratives avoid melodrama or repetition. All the main characters struggle with and never conquer their yearnings, which are challenged or thwarted through singular moments of quiet drama. And, despite there being no radical or titillating action, what lingers in the reader’s mind long after reading feels like reverberations of aftershocks.
One particularity that animates several of these stories is how two unlikely characters come together: a middle-aged caretaker and strange European workmen; an amnesiac picture-restorer and a street prostitute; a widow and a widower from different social strata.
The lonely, older woman of the shabby, genteel kind is a recognizable Trevor archetype here. As ever, though, Trevor’s unfailing compassion and understated humor serve as reliable anchors to prevent the pathos-filled narratives from sinking into sentimentality.