DH: The William Trevor story is called “A Meeting in Middle Age”. When you encounter a rich new story, you’re presented with a bunch of sensations in a rush. WT was confident enough to just let me feel the buzz at the opening. We get the principal names in the first line: “I am Mrs da Tanka”, said Mrs da Tanka. Are you Mr Mileson?”
Like the brilliant opening of a chess master. The name “da Tanka” floored me every time I heard it. It’s like having a metal bucket kicked right next to your ear. And you get it double-barreled in the opening. As for “Mileson”, it sounds like he’s been through a lot. What he’s been through by middle age has battered him as if his life were an excessively long walk.
I was confused that this pair were meeting at a train station to go off together when they barely seemed to know each other. What a great tease. Trevor also signals that they are in different social classes. The da Tanka woman tries to repress her “chirpiness” and Trevor remarks that her clothes are expensive. She’s upper middle class or pretending to be. Mileson seems as well worn as year-old newspaper, lower middle. These distinctions break into open class warfare at the end of the story.
The reader pieces out that Mrs da Tanka must implicate herself in divorce proceedings against her second husband. It’s important that she’s had two husbands and Trevor almost blends them together, as if Mrs da Tanka were wearing out her men.
Mileson has been paid a modest fee to stay in a hotel room with her, providing the grounds for divorce. That he’d accept this job is one of the character signals that Trevor sends out about him and his threadbare life.
I’ve been with friends on trips. shell-shocked when I’ve realized that we’re not that compatible. But T & M are incompatible strangers that Trevor has thrown together. It’s the writer-scientist conducting an experiment in a lab maze: Let’s throw this odd couple together and see what happens.
Dialogue squares the tension you already feel about da Tanka, a character that makes my flesh crawl. The writer plants his grenades in insipid conversation. At the hotel dinner with Mileson, which is bound to be awkward for this mismatched pair anyway, da T forms an unaccountable antagonism for the waiter. She actually calls him over to her table and asks him to replacehimself.
She berates Mileston for not supporting her, the least he can do since he is pretending to be her lover. Later, in the hotel room they have to share, Mileston rushes himself into bed so he can be covered up before his roommate arrives. My roommate did that to me once at BEA. But only we knew that we were both gay.
It’s a superb move that Mileston reaches over the bed for da Tanka’s neck in a cathartic attempt to strangle her. She takes his awkward moves as a stilted come-on for sex.
They are two middle aged peas in a pod. And you sense that if they both weren’t so screwed up, so ruined by the time they were middle aged, that they might have actually been compatible, found in each other that miraculous, unbelievable thing called happiness. But Trevor has the artistry to show us that lost possibility, buried like a rotting tulip bulb that will never germinate.
- Bound to Last, Edited by Sean Manning (thenervousbreakdown.com)
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