Gilbert’s Mother by William Trevor

I’ve been slowly working my way through William Trevor’s short story collection, After Rain, for several months now. The title story of this collection is part of my “Deal Me In” short story reading project for 2011, but the other remaining stories are fair game for ad hoc reading whenever I have a spare half hour or so. I had just such a half hour today, and I didn’t want to delve back into The Persian Expedition with Xenophon (mainly because I knew I wouldn’t want to return to the 21st century after “only” half an hour with my mercenary Greek hoplite friends…). So – I chose instead to knock out another William Trevor story.
I first learned of William Trevor at one of my favorite blogs: Ana the Imp. Ana is a young but very astute reader who focuses mainly on history and political topics. She is a great writer, prolific blogger and always seems to have something fascinating to post about. Back in September she introduced me to William Trevor. Her original post about the author can be found at:

http://anatheimp.blogspot.com/2010/09/seanchai.html

As one reviewer on Goodreads.com put it succinctly – and accurately, Trevor is “The master of the quiet, but important story”

The story I read today was wonderful and chilling at the same time. It begins with the news that a young girl is murdered on the way home from work in South London. In the following pages we meet another resident of them neighborhood where this happens. She is Rosalie Mannion, a fifty year-old “single mother” who Trevor describes economically as having a “round, pretty face (that) had taken charge of what wrinkles had come, by chance distributing them favorably.” Isn’t that a great description?

Anyway, what we then learn is that Rosalie has an adult son living with her who has always been a bit odd and troubled. We learn that he is antisocial and even spent a year once in an institution. His mother had hoped they “would keep him” but was assured by the haughty doctors that “as long as he stays on his medication, there’s nothing to worry about.” She knows they are wrong, and her life becomes a kind of private hell as he becomes wont to disappear for sometimes days at a time, during which she hears on the news of crimes or mischief where he has been. He mysteriously acquires a car, is absent from home and in a town where serious arson occurs, etc. etc. Yet seemingly he can also function rather normally in society and even holds down a job in an architect’s office.

What makes this tale chilling is the gradual realization for the reader that “he knows that she knows” (or suspects) that he is evil. Worse yet, she knows that he knows that she knows, and even worse HE knows that… well, you get the picture. She’s too afraid to report him to the authorities – partly because he’s her son, but mostly because of her fear. The reader can imagine the fear and tension that this poor woman lives in day after day, and can sense that there is not likely to be an end to it. A disturbing but masterful short story.

-Jay

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4 Comments

  1. anatheimp said,

    February 1, 2011 at 2:10 am

    I’m so pleased to have been the one to introduce Trevor to you. 🙂

    Like

  2. Jay said,

    February 1, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I’ve learned to trust your judgement over the past year, Ana. 🙂

    In fact, just this past weekend, my mother said she was thinking about going to see “The King’s Speech”, and – having recently read your review – I told her, “I heard from a trusted source that it was excellent.” She loved it.

    -Jay

    Like

  3. anatheimp said,

    February 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Jay, that’s delightful. 🙂

    Like

  4. September 13, 2011 at 5:28 am

    […] master of the form.  I posted about several of them this year.  Lost Ground, After Rain, and Gilbert’s Mother.  The first two were my […]

    Like


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