‘A Meeting In Middle Age’ by William Trevor

A Meeting In Middle Age by William Trevor, 1964

The magic trick:

Letting the reader get to know the characters before they get to know each other

This is an excellent study in delivering backstory without disrupting the momentum of the narrative. We get to know these two characters very quickly through short trips into their internal monologues. It’s more than that, though.

Because these two are meeting each other for the first time, we find ourselves in the odd position of knowing more about them than they know about each other. Then, as they begin to verbalize pieces of those backstories from the previous internal monologues, we are acutely aware of the way each is ignoring the other. They are talking right through each other. They are so far from any kind of connection that it’s painful. Those backstories at the start put us right on the front lines of that awkward pain.

And that’s quite a trick on Trevor’s part.

The selection:

‘A ninety-nine-years’ lease,’ Mr. Mileson’s father had said, ‘taken out in 1862 by my grandfather, whom of course you never knew. Expiring in your lifetime, I fear. Yet you will by then be in a sound position to accept the misfortune. To renew what has come to an end; to keep the property in the family.’ The property was an expression that glorified. The house was small and useful, one of a row, one of a kind easily found; but the lease when the time came was not renewable – which released Mr. Mileson of a problem. Bachelor, childless, the end of the line, what use was a house to him for a further ninety-nine years?

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