Thursday, March 31, 2011

Authors on the Short Story--Part IV

Here is my fourth blog on Authors on the Short Story. I have my Angers presentation completed and will tell you more about it after the conference. I have one more set of Author comments, all from the introductions to the Best American Short Story volumes of the past several years. I will post those next week. I welcome any comments on these Authorial remarks, and any additions you may know that I have missed.

Donald Barthelme: “Fragments are the only forms I trust.”

Annie Proulx: “The construction of short stories calls for a markedly different set of mind than work on a novel, and for me short stories are at once more interesting and more difficult to write than longer works. The comparative brevity of the story dictates more economical and accurate use of words and images, a limited palette of events, fewer characters, tighter dialogue, strong title and punctuation that works to move the story forward.”

Grace Paley: “I really am in love with the story form, so I can’t say the novel will do something a short story can’t. I would just say they probably do something different. And I’ve never been really clear about it. Every now and then, I get an illumination of what one does that the other doesn’t, and if I’m in a classroom, it’s lucky, then I can say it to a lot of people. But then it sort of blurs for me . . . For me, somehow, the short story is very close to the poem in feeling and not so close in feeling to the novel, although it’s about the same people that a novel would be about. But what it tries to say is the poem of those lives.”

Jayne Anne Phillips: “I think that stories in reality are often circular; past and present ad future are mixed up in terms of the way we think; and the closer a story can get to that—the more completely it can represent that—the more timeless the story becomes.”

George Saunders: “The novel and the short story “are, at their origin, very different… In a novel the whole point is the little constructions along the way… A chance to describe a certain household or a certain while-travelling phenomenon. And the plot is just a way to link these together, and, in a sense justify them…. Whereas in a story the progression of the plot is what the whole machine is ultimately judged against. You can do the other things—description, dialogue, etc., but any piece that is inessential to the plot-machine (to the sense that this thing is moving forward, and along a certain thematic track) is felt as extraneous. And I am very firmly in the latter mindset.”

Wells Tower: It's very easy to write a terrible short story: you just write something and then stop. In a good short story, you are made to care for someone within a very limited space and then hopefully arrive at some explosive moment at the end, where the characters' lives are changed in some way. A good short story should rock the axis of your world.”

Joy Williams: A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the dark. The writer doesn’t want to disclose or instruct of advocate, he wants to transmute and disturb. He cherishes the mystery…. he wants to escape his time, the obligations of his time, and, by writing, transcend them.”

David Means: “Short stories demand a kind of intense poetic eye, and you can’t flinch. I relate stories to songs; you listen to a song and get a bit of narrative along with beat and tone and sound and images, then the song fades out, or hits that final beat, and you’re left with something that’s tangible and also deeply mysterious.”

Sherwood Anderson: “The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist’s imaginative life…there is determination to give the tale…Form—to make it real to the theme, not to life. Often the better the job is done, the greater the confusion…. Would it not be better to have it understood that realism, in so far as the word means reality in life, is always bad art—although it may possibly be very good; journalism.”

Ambrose Bierce: The only way to get unity of impression from a novel is t shut it up and look at the covers.”

Joyce Carol Oates: “The short story is a dream verbalized, arranged in space and presented to the world, imagined as a sympathetic audience (and not, as the world really is, a busy and indifferent crowd): the dream is said to be some kind of manifestation of desire, so the short story must also represent a desire, perhaps only partly expressed, but the most interesting thing about it is its mystery.”

Catherine Brady: Every good story has to risk being obscure, aimless, about nothing if it is to sustain that ‘something wild’ not within reach, not enclosed in the story because it cannot be named or identified in any single passage. . Good stories dance on the boundary line between resisting a final interpretation and resisting any interpretation at all.”

Elizabeth Taylor: “Short stories are a form of contradiction: an act of both isolation and relationship.”

Julio Cortazar: “For me the thing that signals a great story is what we might call its autonomy, the fact that it detaches itself from its author like a soap bubble blown from a clay pipe…. I think it is vanity to want to put into a story anything but the story itself.
The short-story writer knows that he can’t proceed cumulatively, that time is not his ally. His own solution is to work vertically, heading up or down in literary space.”

Anthony Burgess: The nature of a short story may have nothing to do with length…there is a kind of short story element, the short story entity, which can be accommodated to any size, that a novel of immense length can be no more than a short story in that it doesn’t present the process of change taking place in human passions. The possibility of change, yes, and the revelation that may lead to change.”

William Carlos Williams: “What are the advantages of the short story as an art form? One clear advantage as against a novel—which is its nearest cousin—is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel in writing a short story and so many dwell on the manner, the writing. On the process itself. A single stroke, uncomplicated but complete; not like a chapter or a paragraph, incomplete…. The short story in contrast to the novel stresses virtuosity as opposed to story structure… The creation of the effect, the climate, the character, by management of the pure verbal effect is paramount…. I should say that the short story consists of one single flight of the imagination, complete: up and down.”

Henry James: "A short story has to choose between being either an anecdote or a picture and can but play its part strictly according to its kind. I rejoice in the anecdote, but I revel in the picture.”

C., S. Lewis: “To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series…s only really a net whereby to catch something else. The real theme may be and perhaps usually is, something that has no sequence in it, something other than a process and much more like a state of quality… It may be asked why anyone should be encouraged to write a form in which the means are apparently so often at war with the end…. I suggest that the internal tension in the heart of every story between the theme and the plot constitutes, after all, its chief resemblance to life. . In real life, as in a story, something must happen. That is just the trouble. We grasp at a state and fond only a succession of events in which the state is never quite embodied.”

Bernard Malamud: “The short story packs a self in a few pages predicating a lifetime.”

John Wain:” The short story is a form on its own, with its own laws and its own logic. A short story has its natural length. It isn’t trying to do the same thing as a novel. It has found staked out which is its own ground. …The short story has its own logic and its own laws, and it is not trying to be something else and failing. It is very triumphantly doing one thing. There are perfectly successful short stories, and there are totally unsuccessful ones, and there’s nothing in between”

Edith Wharton: “One of the chief obligations in a short story is to give the reader an immediate sense of security. Every phrase should be a signpost, and never (unless intentionally) a misleading one…. The least touch of irrelevance, the least chill of inattention, will instantly undo the spell, and it will take as long to weave again as to get Humpty Dumpty back on his wall. The moment the reader loses faith in the author’s sureness of foot improbability gapes…. The chief technical difference between the short story and the novel may be summed up by saying that the situation is the main concern of the short story, character of the novel; and it follows that the effect produced by the short story depends almost entirely on its form, or presentation.”

John Barth: “We may safely generalize that short story writers, as a class, from Poe to Paley, incline to see how much they can leave out, and novelists as a class, from Petronius to Pynchon, how much they can leave in.”

Richard Ford: “Short stories feels as though they arise out of some fierce schism that they by their very existence mean to reconcile. And fascination edging on to mystery does exist in the discrepancy between the ingenious capacity of great stories to penetrate us and our ineludible awareness of their brevity.”

Isabel Allende: “I think that in a short story the most important thing is to get the tone right in the first six lines. The tone determines the characters. In long fiction, it’s plot, its character…a lot of stuff goes in there. But in short stories, it’s tone, language, suggestions.” People think if they can write a short story then eventually they will be able to write a novel. It’s actually the other way around. If you are able to write a novel, someday with a lot of work and good luck you may be able t write a good short story”

Moira Crone: “Novels are messy and short stories are very defined. Short stories have a consistent, arguably a universally recognized form, and novels can have any number of forms. There is closure in most short stories…. Getting a short story right, and being obsessed with it until you do, is more occupying, like having an acute illness, a kind of attack.”

Richard Ford: “If stories fail, then they don’t make a short story. It’s like bread. Either it’s a loaf of bread or it’s doughy goo.”

William Faulkner: “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.”

Jack Matthews: “I don’t think the short story as a genre is insubstantial at all, just brief... It’s the narrow instrument that penetrates deepest. (That’s part true and part not — like most truths relating to labels and judgments). Also, if you love a novel, what is it, exactly, that you love? One answer would be that you love what you remember of certain scenes in it, or perhaps a specific emblematic scene, which lasts in your memory as a short story, of sorts. And it is this way with all images, of course, for an image often functions as a symbol of the narrative’s plenary meaning… A discontent with I[the short story’s] brevity does not constitute a legitimate argument. Ask a coral snake, which is as deadly as it is small.”

Sean O’Faolain: “If I had to choose one word to describe short-story language I would either say that it is engrossed, or that it is alert. What one searches for and what one enjoys in a short story is a special distillation of personality, a unique sensibility which has recognized and selected at once a subject that, above all other subjects, is of value to the writer’s temperament and to his alone.”

Mary Lavin: “I feel that it is in the short story that a writer distills the essence of his thought. I believe this because the short story shape as well as matter, is determined by the writer’s own character. Both are one. Short-story writing—for me—is only looking closer than normal into the human heart. The vagaries and contrarieties three to be fund have their own integral design.”

Barry Hannah: “Get in and get out.”

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Authors on the Short Story--Part III

I have finished a rough draft of the presentation I am making next month at the conference on the short story at Angers, France. The title of my presentation is: "Why Many Authors Love Short Stories and Many Readers Do Not." Today, I am posting my third blog entry of authors' comments on the short story. I plan to post one more such blog filled with author comments before I go to France. In my presentation at Angers, I attempt to organize comments I have drawn from 100 short story writers abut the form into significant categories and, by synthesizing them, make connections between the categories and draw conclusions about the generic characteristics of the short story.

Authors on the Short Story: Part III

Herbert Gold: The short story must “tend to control and formalize experience and strike hot like the lyric poem.”

Alberto Moravia: “The novel has a bone structure holding it together from top to toe, whereas the short story is, so to speak, boneless… The short story is made up of intuitions of feelings, whereas the novel is made up of ideas.”

Clare Boylan: “In the short story, the world is in the detail and that small random acts can set ordinary lives alight or consume them to ash.”

Charles D’Ambrosio: “I know why I read some stories over and over . . . to me it’s some mix of the harmony, I hear music of the creation; the stories I’ve read over and over again . . . I can feel the whole thing . . . the whole thing in any one of the sentences, you know, I love that aspect of the short story; it’s almost like reading a poem.”

Lee K. Abbott: “I'm really intrigued by the possibilities that the story offers. In the first place you can try and fail it a whole lot more per year than you can at a novel. In the second place, I use up material at a frenetic kind of pace. The stories are dense. The stories are speedy. The stories are sometimes as demanding to read as they are to write, and frankly writing a couple hundred pages or three or four hundred pages of that kind of thing would kill me, exhaust the hell out of me”

Richard Ford: “Short stories want to give us something big but want to do it in precious little time and space. For another they succeed by willfully falsifying many of the observable qualities of the life they draw upon… You could say that the most fundamental trait of short stories, other than their shortness, would seem to be audacity…. Short stories are the high-wire act of literature… Being the slightly discomforting/intensely pleasing aesthetic agents they are, short stories are often good on the strength of sheer nerve.”

Ernest Hemingway: "If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one eighth of it being above water."

Robert Olen Butler: “Fiction is the art form of human yearning.” Butler cites Joyce’s famous theory of epiphany--that moment in the story when something about the human condition shines forth in its essence. Butler says this is the result of the yearning present in all the separate organically resonant moments in the fiction accumulating to a critical mass. It is just that because of its brevity, these two moments typically occur at the same time in the short story. “The final epiphany of a literary short story is also the shining forth of the character’s yearning.”

Joyce Carol Oates: "The perennial question 'Is the short story an endangered species?' would seem to assume a perilous contemporary climate for the survival of this purely literary form." Oates doubts the 21st century will be as hospitable to the short story as the 19th and 20th, since the short story, unlike the novel, is "invariably literary."

Anton Chekhov: "The short story, like the stage, has its conventions. My instinct tells me that at the end of the novel or a story I must artfully concentrate for the reader an impression of the entire work, and therefore must casually mention something about those whom I have already presented. Perhaps I am in error."

V. S. Pritchett: “The short story wakes the reader up. "It answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience, the desire for the electric shock."

Raymond Carver: “It is possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things--a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring--with immense, even startling power.

William Boyd: “Something occurs in the writing - and reading - of a short story that is on another level from the writing and reading of a novel. The basic issue, it seems to me, is one of compression versus expansion. The essence of almost every short story, by contrast, is one of distillation, of reduction. It's not a simple question of length, either: there are 20-page short stories that are far more charged and gravid with meaning than 400-page novels. We are talking about a different category of prose fiction altogether.”

Anne Beattie: “I don’t think that short stories have all that much in common with novels, not poetry with short stories. I like each form or genre for what it inherently possesses…a story re-creates for me more directly what my sense of the world is; a short story wrier has to use language differently from a novelist.”

Robert Stone: “The short story is like a pitch in baseball. It’s one continuous movement that ideally has to, like a pitch, break and then with a kind of retrospective inevitability end up in a catch’s mitt. It’s a beautiful form when it works, but it’s very difficult.”

Ron Carlson: “I’ve become a writer who thinks in short stories…I consider each short story a world of its own, and I try to make each world dense and rich and beautiful… Stories at their best offer the reader the illumination and discomfort of a charged moment.” I love the short story; I’d write them forever, regardless of the fact that it isn’t a particularly sharp career move.”

Dan Chaon: “The short story as a species tends to be a solitary and lonely creature…They are meant to be experienced singly, with a long, silent pause between each one.” “One of the things I love about the short story as an art form is its ability to evoke the ephemeral quality of being alive… My hope and ideal is to rescue ‘missing’ moments in time, to take a snapshot of those fleeting, life-or-death visions, before they vanish back into the haze of daily life.”

Stuart Dybek, 1997: “What I love about the short story is that you can jump into it where it’s already geared up at a high level, start out already in third gear and then kick it into fourth and fifth.”

Rikki Ducornet: “Perhaps for me writing stories is a way of engaging in the infinite, the mutable, the evocative world which is the world of the imagination.”

Deborah Eisenberg: “Sometimes there’s a kind of tonality that I want, almost as if I was writing a piece of music…sometimes in the back of my mind there’s a musical model.”
“There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on about the demands of doing something long, something that looks just slightly more conventional.”

Tim Gautreaux: “The short story, of course, is a wonderful form that I love dearly. It is a manageable form. You are in and out in six or seven thousand words. The novel, of course, has to keep going beyond that to one hundred and thirty, one hundred and fifty thousand words, and it's very easy to lose your way. It's a quantum leap from story writing.”

Adam Haslett: “I think of each story as having a rhythm, an intensity, and I am always trying to find the rhythm that fits a particular story.” “I think of the short story in some ways as the labor toward the perfected sentiment.”

Ron Hansen: What stories do is “give us access to otherwise hidden, censored, unsayable thoughts and feelings now shiftily disclosed in the guise of plot and character…The hungers of our spirits are fed by sharing in the glimpsed interior of others.”

Bret Anthony Johnston: “I think the reason short story collections don’t sell as well as novels is because they’re much more difficult to read. Novels might require a longer commitment, but stories demand a deeper concentration and a more intense focus, and a lot of people would rather not exert themselves in that way… Those that do buy and read literary short fiction are among the best and the brightest readers we have. They’re willing to take risks, to invest their attentions and emotions.”

Andrea Lee: “I feel a bit ill at ease in the novel form because I’m so used to the intensity and compression of short stories. It’s an odd and rather luxurious feeling to have so much room to maneuver, to describe, to create subplots—rather like moving to a mansion when you are used to apartments. It’s fun, but I think I’ll always love short fiction best, because I am obsessed with structure and symmetry, and somehow it is more satisfying for me to work with these on a small canvas. Again, the word is intensity. I love the way a short story can offer a sharp concentrated insight like a stiletto thrust. I love the way you can experience a whole life time in a few pages, as you do in the lines of a poem.”

Daniyal Mueenuddin: “A short story has a fixed narrative line—it’s like an artillery shell, which is fired out, goes up and lands at a fixed point—but a novel can be discursive.”

Julie Orringer: “When I started out writing short stories I imagined that this was a kind of practice for a novel that was going to come later. As I got farther along in my studies and in the development of my writing I became so excited about the short story as a form I ceased thinking of it and anything I wanted to do as preparation…I was happy to think that I might always work in the short story form.”

Amy Hempel: “The trick is to find a tiny way into a huge subject.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day--William Trevor--Cheating at Canasta

The corned beef cooked in the slow cooker last night. The potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage are cooking now. The Guiness is chilling nicely in the fridge. I will make a loaf of Irish soda bread later this afternoon. And then, we will eat and drink and be merry. I hope your St. Patrick's Day is as good as mine. In honor of the day, I am posting a discussion of the last collection of my favorite Irish author, William Trevor. I have not seen any stories by him in the last two years, but I hope he is still writing them. He is one of the two most brilliant short story authors writing today. He has a profound understanding of the complexity of what makes people do what they do and an unerring ability to use language to suggest that intimate intricacy.

As in all great short stories, from Chekhov to Carver, there is mystery and not a little menace in the stories of William Trevor—secrets so tangled and inexplicable that efforts to explain them with the language of psychology or sociology or history are either futile or absurd. This is not accidental, but part of the short story’s historical and generic tradition, for the form originated in primitive myth, which, by its very nature, was concerned with mystery, for which story was the only explanatory model available. Moreover, the short story is often concerned with the enigma of motivation. Part of the reason for this is the short story's close relationship to the romance form, which, allegorical in its nature, develops characters that, even as they seem to be like real people in the real world, act as if they are obsessed, propelled by some mysterious force.

A classic example is Trevor’s “The Dressmaker’s Child,” in which Cahill, a nineteen-year-old Irish man takes a couple of young Spanish tourists, seeking a blessing on their marriage, to a statue that was once thought to shed miraculous tears. However, the miracle of the statue has since been discredited, and the Dublin man who told them about it was only lying to get them to buy him drinks. Cahill knows all this, but wants the fifty euro he charges to drive the couple out to the statue. On the way back, a young female child, who has a habit of doing such things, runs out in the road and into his car. Cahill does not stop. When the child’s body is found in a quarry half a mile from her home, the mother, a dressmaker, who has borne the child out of wedlock, begins to stalk Cahill, hinting that she saw him hit the girl. Cahill imagines that he walked back to the site of the accident and carried the body of the child to the quarry, but he knows that it was the mother who has done this. The mother urges Cahill to leave his girlfriend and invites him to come home with her. Cahill, afraid, without knowing what he fears, cannot dismiss the connection between him and the dressmaker. When he tries to understand this, he is bewildered, but he knows that one day he will go to her. The story suggests that it is possible that death and guilt, as well as birth and love can unite two people.

Guilt, secrets, and obsession also dominate “Folie À Deux.” Wilby, a divorced man in his forties, is in Paris, indulging in his interest in rare stamps. At a café, he sees an employee who looks like a man named Anthony who Wilby knew as a boy, a man who disappeared years before and who everyone assumed was dead. Wilby recalls a significant event that has bound them together in guilt. Once the two boys, out of curiosity, put Anthony’s old dog Jerico in a small boat and pushed him out to sea, just to find out what he would do. They hear the dog howling and later see its body when it is washed up on shore. Although this does not seem to affect Wilby so much, it profoundly changes Anthony, who becomes quieter and more withdrawn. Later when Wilby runs into Anthony again at school, he discovers that Anthony is even more remote and strange; Wilby does not befriend him again, even though he feels guilty about this. Like Cahill in “The Dressmaker’s Child,” Wilby’s guilt is muddled by bewilderment. When he goes back to the café and realizes that it is Anthony, Wilby knows that he will return to his own safe, tidy world, but this morning he likes himself less than he likes his childhood friend.

The mystery of motivation and secrets of the past also energize “The Room.” A forty-seven-year-old woman named Katherine is engaged in an affair, perhaps in revenge, for her husband’s involvement with a prostitute, who was murdered and for whom he was a suspect, nine years before. Katherine lied for her husband then, in partial repayment for her inability to have children, providing him with an alibi, although it seems quite clear that he did not kill the woman. When the man with whom she is having an affair asks Katherine why she loves her husband, she says that no one can answer that question and, in a statement central to Trevor’s success with the short story, asserts that most often, people don’t know why they do things. For the nine years since the murder, she has not asked her husband about the girl, but knows that her alibi for him has given her release from any restraint. The story ends with her knowledge that the best that love can do is not enough, for what holds people together is often guilt, debt, secrets.

What makes people do what they do and the mysteries of what holds them together or tears them apart is also central to “Bravado.” Five young people are on the way home late at night—the leader Manning, his cohorts Donovan and Kilroy, Aisling, his girlfriend, and a second girl named Francie. When Dalgety, a boy they scorn as a geek, urinates in someone’s yard, Manning, who always likes to play the big fellow, knocks him down and kicks him. The next morning the boy is discovered dead. Donovan and Kilroy are sent to jail for eleven years, getting off easy, for they did not know that Dalgety had a weak heart. Manning disappears, but writes to Aisling several years later, telling her he has changed. Aisling finishes school and gets a job but never marries. At Dalgety’s grave, she begs for forgiveness, for she knows that the beating was done to impress her, to deserve her love, and watching it she had felt a momentary pleasure. She sometimes thinks she will run away from the shadow of bravado that hangs over her, but she is also now a different person and feels that she belongs to where the act took place.

Guilt and the mysteries of the past have a wider compass in “Men of Ireland.” A fifty-two-year old man, Donal Prunty, returns to the small village in Ireland where he was born after having spent several years in England “on the street.” Prunty goes to the parish priest, Father Meade, for whom he served Mass when he was a child and tells him about hearing the old stories of priest abuse with other men--the “hidden Ireland.” When he accuses Father Meade of abusing him, the priest knows he is lying and wonders if he is confusing him with another priest, his brain addled because of methylated spirits. Although he insists that no finger has ever been pointed at a priest in this village, still he goes to a drawer and takes paper notes and gives to him. After Prunty leaves, the priest does not blame him because you cannot blame a hopeless case, and he feels guilty for not being able to reach him as a boy as his mother has asked of him. He knows that no honorable guilt and no generous intent have made him give Prunty the money, but rather that he has paid for silence. He accepts that the petty offense of Prunty is minor beside the betrayal by the Church and the shamming of Ireland’s priesthood.

The inexplicable nature of love and human need dominate such stories as “An Afternoon,” in which a young girl meets a man in a chat room and then arranges to meet him in person. She obviously needs the attention of the man and seems to trust him, although the reader is suspicious of his thoughts, discovering gradually that he has met young women like this before. He is solicitous of the girl, winning a necklace for her in a carnival type game and giving her drinks. However, his plans, whatever they are, are foiled, when his aunt, with whom he lives, drives up, telling him to remember that he is on probation. The girl goes home, and hears her mother and the man she lives with having a fight. In face of this, the girl, even though she now knows the man planned to take advantage of her, still thinks of him tenderly. She kisses the necklace he gave her and promises she will always keep it with her.

“The Children” begins with the perspective of Connie, a child of eleven, whose mother has just died. It then shifts to a woman named Teresa, forty-one, whose husband left her several years before. Two years later Robert, Connie’s father, asks Teresa to marry him. Connie takes her mother’s books up on the roof to read them, although it is really pretence, for she is too young to understand them. She worries that all her mother’s books will be sold, so she wants to know what every single one of them is about. Five days away from the wedding, Teresa comes to see Robert and they decide to cancel the wedding. Realizing that nothing is as tidy as they had thought, and that no rights cancel other rights, they both know they have been hasty and careless. Robert accepts that time will gather up the ends, and that his daughter’s honoring of a memory was love that mattered also.

The title story opens with a man named Mallory, an Englishman in his middle years, at Harry’s Bar in Venice, famous as a hangout of Ernest Hemingway. It has been four years since he was last here with his wife Julia, who is now afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease. As a last request, she has made him promise to go back to Harry’s, but he is not sure if this trip is really meaningful. However, when he hears an American man ask his younger wife why she is crying, he becomes interested in their quarrel. When they leave, he tells them the reason for his trip, feeling ashamed that he has come close to deploring this tiresome, futile journey. He recalls letting his wife win at canasta, even though she was not sure why she was happy when she won. As the couple leave, the man smiles, hearing his wife’s voice say that shame isn’t bad, nor is humility, which is shame’s gift.

These are not cultural examinations of either the old Ireland of legend or the new Ireland of the Celtic Tiger, but rather profoundly wise explorations of individual, yet universal, secrets and mysteries of the heart. Luminous, restrained stories, every one of them deserves to be read and reread, their motivations marveled at, their sentences savored. They fill the reader with awe at the complexity of the human experience and the genius of William Trevor.