‘Attracta’ by William Trevor

Attracta by William Trevor, 1978

The magic trick:

Connecting the protagonist’s moment of realization not to the two dramatic pieces of backstory we’re provided but rather to a seemingly unconnected detail

Brilliant story. It bodes well for this entire week, highlighting the late, great William Trevor.

This one is interesting in that the two moments of massive change are not the catalysts for massive illumination in the life of our titular character. Her parents die young, and then a decade later, she is told some of the troubling details behind their deaths.

Pretty major life moments, right?

Neither has the effect you might expect.

Attracta carries on into a well-adjusted, productive life as a school teacher. It’s only when at the age of 61 she reads a newspaper story about a recent suicide that her reality cracks in half. It’s a fascinating and entirely believable bit of delayed grief. And that’s quite a trick on Trevor’s part.

The selection:

Two fishermen, approaching her on the path, recognized her as the Protestant teacher from the town eight miles away and stood aside for her to pass. She was thinking that nothing she might ever have said in her schoolroom could possible have prevented the death of a girl in a city two hundred miles away. Yet in a way it seemed ridiculous that for so long she had been relating the details of Cromwell’s desecration and the laws of Pythagoras, when she should have been talking about people of the town: Mr. Devereaux and Geraldine Carey. And it was Mr. Purce she should have recalled instead of the Battle of the Boyne.

The fishermen spoke to her as she passed them by, but she didn’t answer. It surprised them that she didn’t, for they hadn’t heard that the Protestant teacher had recently become deaf or odd. Just old, they supposed as they watched her progressing slowly: an upright figure, spare and fragile-looking, a certain stiffness in her movements.

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