‘A Complicated Nature’ by William Trevor

Trevor, William 1975

A Complicated Nature by Wiliam Trevor, 1975

The magic trick:

Interjecting the imagined conversations between Attridge and his friends

I’ve read a lot of stories by now for the SSMT, and a lot of them involve this basic premise: begin the story by establishing some sense of normalcy, add an extraordinary element into the mix, watch the protagonist grapple with the distance between old normal and the new normal. It’s a pretty good formula. “A Complicated Nature” would seem to follow such a template, except then it doesn’t, at all.

Attridge, the story’s protagonist, does find his very controlled and constricted reality invaded by a wildcard in the form of a panicked neighbor who fears her lover has died in her apartment. But the story doesn’t develop from there as one might guess. The most effective, and maybe surprising, element is Trevor’s inclusion at various points of Attridge’s imagined future conversations about the events that are happening to him in the present. He is incapable of living his life within itself, within the moment. Everything has to be considered from a point of view outside his own – whether it’s his choice in living room furniture or the way he handles an emergency. It’s a complicated nature, indeed. Soon, the reader realizes that the story’s premise wasn’t chosen in order to simply have Attridge compare his old normal to his new normal – as outlined above. The premise serves to highlight the distance between the person he wishes to project himself as and the person he truly is. And that’s quite a trick on Trevor’s part.

The selection:

Once more he felt a hint of excitement. It was a confused feeling now, belonging as much in his body as in his mind. In a dim kind of way he seemed again to be telling the story to Mrs. Harcourt-Egan or to someone else. Telling it, his voice was quiet. It spoke of the compassion he had suddenly felt for the small unattractive Jewish woman and for another woman, a total stranger whom he’d never even seen. “A moment of truth,” his voice explained to Mrs. Harcourt-Egan and others. “I could not pass these women by.”

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