Thursday, December 11, 2008

The New Yorker: "The Woman of the House" by William Trevor

The New Yorker could do a lot worse than to publish a William Trevor story, so I was happy to see this one, and I believe it is one of the best stories of the year. The woman of the title is a cousin of a crippled man, and they live together on his farm out of convenience. She takes care of him, and also skims a little cash from the household accounts. They live on his pension, which is enough, but still they scrape by. The man hires two young men who he thinks are Polish to paint the outside of the house.

The woman objects, but she is resigned to the bargain he has struck. But the painters are forced away by rain and when they come back, the man is nowhere to be found and the woman is somehow different. They suspect that she has killed him but kept it quiet in order to keep receiving his pension, and indeed the reader suspects the same. The story is told in alternating voices. First the painters and then the woman, Martina, and both sections beautifully render their awkward circumstances. The men are in fact not Polish, but are Gypsies (or, rather, they are stateless survivors of “Carinthia” who are “now regarded as Gypsies). They don’t trust the local tinkers, and seem to be honest, hard workers, although they have taken on this painting job without knowing the first thing about it. And the woman’s situation is clearly difficult, without money of her own, allowing the grocer to take liberties with her so that she can save money on provisions.
“The woman’s history was not theirs to know, even though they now were part of it themselves. Their circumstances made them that, as hers made her what she’d become.”
And that tells the story.

December 15, 2008: “The Woman of the House” by William Trevor


greg gerke said...

Well Cliff, I think you have to add this one. It might be the crowning achievement of the year.

Clifford Garstang said...

Agreed. I liked it a lot.