cover image Death in Summer: 1

Death in Summer: 1

William Trevor. Viking Books, $23.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88202-1

A hot, beautiful summer in Essex provides the background for Trevor's latest novel, in which three deaths occur and people from all of England's social classes interact in unexpected ways. Thaddeus Davenant, the penurious descendant of an illustrious family, marries Letitia Iveson for her money but learns to appreciate her gentle goodness. When she dies in a freak accident, he's left with their infant daughter. After his interviews with nanny applicants fail to produce a candidate, his mother-in-law volunteers to move into Quincunx House to care for Georgina. But Thaddeus has unwittingly introduced evil into his household. Devastated when she is not hired as Georgina's nanny, desperate, love-starved Pettie, brought up in a foster home where she was sexually abused, becomes obsessed with the life she imagines she would live with Thaddeus and concocts a plan to remove Mrs. Iveson from the scene. Meanwhile, Thaddeus is forced to come to the aid of his former mistress, a lower-class woman whose illness and death coincide with his other crises. Trevor's insight into human nature and his dexterity in depicting characters from the lower strata of society are again displayed in this mesmerizing story. Pettie, like the heroine of Felicia's Journey (1995), has neither a consoling family nor inner resources to sustain her. The contrasts between Quincunx House and the Morning Star youth home, and between the genteel stoicism of the upper classes and the desperation of those with nothing to lose, are stunningly clear. As usual, Trevor's prose is meticulous and restrained, and surprises resonate after their quiet disclosure. His message--that life is cruel because death is random, but for some, life's cruelty is such that death is a balm--is conveyed with the ease of a master storyteller and humane observer. (Sept. ) FYI: Trevor's Selected Stories will be published simultaneously by Penguin.