Beyond the Pale
The Viking Press
Ms. Hen picked up this book at the Little Free Library in Downtown Boston, in front of Walgreens. That one does not always have good books, but Ms. Hen managed to find this treasure one day recently. She has read other books by William Trevor, and she always loves them. He died recently at the age of eighty-eight, which Ms. Hen is in awe of. She admires writers who can live a long life and keep on writing. Mr. Trevor was one of the preeminent Irish short story writers of our time.
Ms. Hen finds it difficult to write reviews of collections of short stories, mostly because she can’t write about every story in the book; she has to choose only a few. Ms. Hen thinks that the best literature is about characters with messed up lives. All the people in the book are dysfunctional in one way or another, which Ms. Hen thinks is beautiful. There’s no point in reading about characters who are deliriously happy, or so she thinks.
In “Beyond the Pale,” four friends set out from England to Ireland for their summer holiday, who are bridge partners. Two of them are married to each other and two of them are single. Some strange events occur and it seems as if their bridge foursome will break up. This story is about the tenuous existence of ordinary people, and what keeps them together and what disintegrates relationships.
“The Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” is about a married couple, and the wife’s announcement that she is having a teddy bear’s picnic with her childhood friends. The husband is distraught and mortified; he does not want to go to a picnic for teddy bears with a group of adults. He is used to getting his way, and does not like to be told what to do. He hopes his wife will get pregnant soon, so he does not have to bear her boring life. Ms. Hen thinks this story is interesting, but dated; it’s about a married couple who don’t understand each other and don’t really know each other.
“The Paradise Lounge,” is about a couple having a love affair, which is ending. They go to a village where they don’t know anybody to stay at a hotel. In the bar, a woman observes them and she knows what is conspiring between them. She wants to tell the woman having the affair she is lucky, but she does not.
In “Beyond the Pale,” the narrator dreams that Cynthia is murdered, " 'Promise me you didn’t do it,' I whispered to Strafe, but when Strafe replied it was to say Cynthia’s body reminded him of a bag of old chicken bones.” Ms. Hen thinks this is funny, in perverse way.
Ms. Hen loved this book. She likes reading short stories because she has to discover a new world again and again within a book. A lot of people who read don’t like short stories, but writers do, because writing them is quick, and there’s less commitment than a novel. Ms. Hen raises her glass to writers who can create a small universe in a short time.