‘A Choice Of Butchers’ by William Trevor

A Choice Of Butchers by William Trevor, 1972

The magic trick:

Building narrative tension (and our narrator’s confusion) around an elephant in the room

This is an excellent variation on the adolescent narrator whose high degree of emotional intelligence isn’t quite high enough to overcome their own natural naiveté. Alice Munro is probably the best at this. Trevor probably a close second.

Our narrator here reports to the reader with great detail – what happens at the family meals, what happens at night during his own bedtime, and fills in gaps with pertinent backstory about the nature of the family relationships. He even analyzes the situation for us as he sorts out his own feelings and meanings.

So it’s remarkable that, even with such a painstakingly precise portrait, the key driver behind the story’s events and themes is never said out loud.

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

The selection:

I imagined Bridget, as I had been imagining her while I lay awake, thinking to herself that she’d give my mother her marching orders. I imagined, suddenly, my mother doing Bridget’s work in the kitchen and Bridget standing at the door watching her. She was a plump girl, red-cheeked, with black curly hair. She had fat arms and legs, and she wasn’t as tall as my mother. She must have been about twenty-five at the time; Mr Dukelow had told me that my mother was fifty-one. Bridget used to bring me the green glass balls that fishermen use for floating their nets, because she lived by the sea and often found them washed up on the strand. She didn’t tell me stories like Mr Dukelow did, but sometimes she’d read to me out of one of the romances she borrowed from a library that the nuns ran. All the books had brown paper covers on them to keep them from getting dirty, with the titles written in ink on the front. I couldn’t remember a time that Bridget hadn’t been in the house, with those brown-covered volumes, cycling back from her Sunday afternoon off with fish and vegetables in a basket. I had always liked her, but she was different from my mother: I was fonder of my mother.

‘If my mother died,’ I said, ‘he would be married to Bridget. She didn’t mind it when he kissed her.’

Mr Dukelow shook his head. She might have been taken unawares, he pointed out: she might have minded it and not been able to protest owing to surprise. Maybe she’d protested, he suggested, after I’d run back to bed.

‘She’s going out with the porter in the Munster and Leinster Bank,’ he said. ‘She’s keen on that fellow.’

‘My father’s got more money.’

‘Don’t worry about your father now. A little thing like that can happen and that’s the end of it. Your father’s a decent man.’


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