four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Cheating at CanastaA hit-and-run on a lonely road. A family farm partitioned into the 18 holes of a golf course. A childhood cruelty echoing into old age. A 21st-century chat-room tryst. These themes might seem ordinary, if a bit tragic. If read as headlines in a newspaper, they would be simply depressing. But in the hands of William Trevor, they become short stories that, like human beings, add up to more than the sum of their parts. Some of Trevor's characters come from another time; others could have been born yesterday. But guided by the great Irish author, all of them bow toward the bleakness of life and come away with a little wisdom.
Viking. 232 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670018376

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"As a book critic, the three comments I hear most often are, 'I don't have time to read books,' 'I don't like short stories,' and 'I only read nonfiction.' A possible rejoinder to all three is: Have you ever read William Trevor?" Heller McAlpin

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Trevor has been publishing for nearly 50 years, and in this collection he pares the deeply felt work more closely to the bone than ever. ... As for the writing itself, you might as well try to review water or clay. A style this elemental renders characters' lives not sad, but simply the human condition." Tricia Springstubb

Denver Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Virginia Woolf wrote that of all great writers, Jane Austen was 'the hardest to catch in the act of greatness.' William Trevor has that kind of elusive greatness today. ... Cheating at Canasta contains some of the best fiction of his half-century as a writer." Merritt Moseley

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The familiar ingredients are here: ordinary or downtrodden lives, many of them Irish, undergo a sudden transforming crisis, leading to death, betrayal, loss, numb acceptance or stoical suffering. ... [Trevor] is, I think, sui generis, and in his 12 collections (and 13 novels, and two novellas: an exhibition of near-Updikean energy), he has created a version of the short story that almost ignores the form's hundred or so years of intricate evolution." William Boyd

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"A couple of entries fall short, including, oddly, the title story, in which a man shows his love for his demented wife by maintaining the pretense that she can still play cards. ... But as Trevor nears 80, with 13 novels and hundreds of short stories behind him, his eye for detail remains unerring, his ear for dialogue pitch-perfect." Whitney Gould

Critical Summary

Critics enthusiastically greet any new collection by William Trevor. Cheating at Canasta is no exception, with many reviewers calling it one of the best of Trevor's 12 short story collections. Two of the stories have already won the O. Henry Award, though the volume contains seven unpublished stories as well. New readers will find it a fitting introduction to his work, and longtime fans will find another bleak delight. Reviewers were particularly impressed that the 80-year-old Trevor remains both timeless and timely, importing his characteristic style into an Ireland that has greatly changed since he started writing. The only significant disagreement over Cheating at Canasta was which of its dozen stories is the best.