four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-BitSideIn Trevor’s Ireland and England, ordinary people—an artist, a wife, a pastor, a housemaid, and a child—come together in loneliness, heartbreak, and despair. In "Sacred Statues," a wife considers making a devil’s bargain so her down-and-out artist husband can work. Two spinsters call on a new widow in "Sitting With the Dead," just to witness the latter’s relief at having shed an abusive man. The title story features some precious moments between a London accountant and his mistress—but something’s different this time around. Adultery, yes, but also imagination, memory, and hope ultimately prevail in this masterful collection—even if they only mask our fragility.
Viking. 244 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 067003343X

Detroit Free Press 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The truth, bravely found and plainly stated, is enough enticement. … [In ‘Sacred Statues’] is where Trevor is the master and where you will be ruined for other writers." Marta Salij

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"... [Trevor] unfolds the real sorrows of real people, people who stand at counters in shops selling postcards, or work as maids and servants, or go off to America to seek their fortune…. A Bit on the Side is a wonderful book and, for me at least, William Trevor really is the best short story writer alive." Michael Dirda

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Each showcases the author’s Chekhovian talent for rendering the perplexities beneath ostensibly commonplace lives. … His narrative technique is, in fact, so skilled that in his hands the tragedies in characters’ lives seem not only plausible but inevitable." Katherine Bailey

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"The play of words and ideas in this collection should guarantee rereading. Before he wrote fiction, William Trevor was an art teacher and sculptor, and his fiction affirms the power of art and music to give order and beauty to an otherwise mundane life." Kirk Weixel

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"These 12 stories seem as if they have been organized by a method more intuitive than plot, as if Trevor weren’t so much telling a story as composing a collage of words, words that record the intersection of a particular insight or realization and its external circumstance. … Like James Joyce before him, Trevor specializes in epiphanies, though Trevor’s are more subtle, less overtly literary, more appropriate for a contemporary Ireland where characters seek sanctuary in Japanese cafes as often as smoky public houses and cathedrals." Brad Vice

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This last is the best story in the collection, the case of a poor Irish family living on a hope and a prayer. … In the bittersweet ending to a story that lends itself to multiple meanings, Trevor shows how expertly he can use the short story to contemplate some very big ideas." Ellen Emry Heltzel

Critical Summary

"If one were to pick a single word to characterize A Bit on the Side, it would be forlorn," writes Michael Dirda in the Washington Post. Here, as in his two dozen or so collections of short fiction and novels (see The Story of Lucy Gault, 4.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2003), Trevor introduces credible characters beset by hopelessness. But these Chekhovian stories, many previously published in The New Yorker, offer anything but hopeless reading. Trevor is a master of simple, quiet prose and psychological intuition, and, even if you don’t identify with each character’s plight, you’ll recognize familiar patterns of behavior. That critics laud the relative merits of each story attests to the great power of this collection as a whole. It only proves, as The New Yorker claims, that Trevor may be "the greatest living writer of short stories."