Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Two Lives: Reading Turgenev & My House in Umbria by William Trevor

I was so impressed by how well Trevor gets into the interior thoughts and lives of his female characters. I was absolutely sold on it. His writing is so beautiful and insightful without being in the least overdone. There is a lushness for the simplicity. Reading Turgenev is about Mary Louise, a woman growing up in a poor Protestant family who marries Elmer Quarry, an older man who owns a drapery. Their marriage is loveless from the start and while Elmer begins losing himself in drink, Mary Louise spends time with her ailing cousin, Robert, and falls in love with him. He reads Turgenev to her in the graveyard and tells her of his feelings. When he dies, Mary Louise recedes further from her marriage and wretched life with his backbiting, conniving sisters and is eventually placed in a mental home. As despairing as it sounds, there were such moments of beauty in the sadness.
My House in Umbria is about a woman with a checkered past who writes romance novels. When a bomb explodes in her train car, the survivors come to live with her for a time in Umbria—and she becomes attached to a young orphaned American girl whose uncle comes to take her away. At one point, the uncle is overheard saying that “Her imagination has consumed her.” She lives a sad, drifting life of the mind and never quite connects with people in the way she wants to. The little girl, Aimee, represents the children she aborted, the life she did not have.
These novels were quietly, subtly satisfying. I can’t wait to read more Trevor!

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