Sunday, 27 November 2016

William Trevor's legacy of bleak, ordinary lives.

The man who wrote about bleak, ordinary lives has died. William Trevor was 88, married (Jane Ryan) in 1952, and has two sons.
No, I have not read his books, and up until today's papers, I do not know the man who is described by his biographer as such: "I don't think there is another writer from Ireland with his range." (Gregory A. Schirmer).
So your point mike? It is this. William "placed his fiction squarely in the middle of ordinary life." That's the bait for me this morning. That is what reeled me in, stories about ordinary folks.
Personally, what intrigued me is that William saw what most people would have walked on by. We are definitely more enamored by celebrities, politicians and the nouveau riche. We want to know with whom the famous people are breaking up with, what is the rich buying for their daughters or mistresses, and what is the soon-to-be First Lady Melanie going to wear for the Presidential Inauguration 2017.
So the late William Trevor breaks the mold for me when "his plots often unfolded in Irish or English villages whose inhabitants, most of them hanging on to the bottom rung of the lower middle class, waged unequal battle with capricious fate."
Here is a sample of it as reported. "In The Ballroom Of Romance (1972), one of his most famous stories, a young woman caring for her disabled father looks for love in a dance hall but settles, week after week, for a few drunken kisses from a local bachelor."
Here is another. "The hero of The Day We Got Drunk On Cake (1967) repeatedly phones a young woman he admires in between drinking sessions at a series of pubs. The relationship deepens and, during a final call in the wee hours, takes a sudden, unexpected turn."
Now that's a gift, an eye for the enormity that passes in a second. William said, "I'm very interested in the sadness of fate, the things that just happen to people."
Lesson? Mm...I wonder whether I too have that eye for the "sadness of fate"? If I am a William-Trevor-wannabe or hopeful, what can I write about concerning the moribund aspect of lower middle-income lives in our little red dot that intrigues, incites and possibly inspires?
Maybe I can start with the train ride every morning. I see many faces flooding in, some painted, some nonchalant, and some spatially blank. We are all going one way or the other, a congealed mass of lives squeezing into a cold impersonal container travelling at a mechanical speed. For most of us, it would be a one-track life from day to night, 365 days a year, for the rest of our life.
Then, a face catches my attention. It is a man in a suit and tie, young graduate, possibly married with a child along the way. He is thinking about family, freedom, and a future question mark. With a tinge of regret for marrying so young, he blames himself for closing so many doors of opportunities. Now he is flirting with the thought of a young colleague who just yesterday told him he's cute.
Another face comes into view. A student anxious about her PSLE results. Her face is ashen, tired and lost. She knows nothing will be good enough for her parents. She blames fate for sabotaging her with a brain that lags far behind her desperation to make her parents proud. And in her hand is a note. It ends with this: "Goodbye mom, dad. Take care. Love."
Lastly, the sadness of fate turns to me. It captures the many muddling questions I am stewing in: Why is the world so angry? Why is standing for what is right no longer the right thing to do? Why is it that we are smarter now (more than ever) and yet make more dumb mistakes? Why is the celebration of the freedom of the individual feels like a destruction of the timeless values we hold so dear? And why is the gospel of success more religiously pursued than the success of the Gospel?
Alas, so many ironies, twisted fate and value contradictions. I guess we all need some discontinuity from the mindless continuity of our values-inverted world. Cheerz.

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