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Short stories. Separate realities

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The News from Ireland & Other Stories, by William Trevor. New York: Viking. 286 pp. $16.95. In this case, at least, ``The News from Ireland'' is extremely good -- further evidence that novelist and television playwright William Trevor is also one of the finest short story writers at work today. If the Irish have long shown their genius for this particular genre, these 12 stories are practically an embarrassment of riches for Trevor, a native of County Cork who now lives in England.

Seven of the tales unfold in Ireland, the rest in England and Italy. The lengthy title story, set during the Irish famine of the 1840s, details the divide between Protestant and Roman Catholic that still tragically determines life (and death) in parts of Ulster today. Separate realities collide in other stories -- the hotel maid who falls in love with her employer's son, or the salesman of women's lingerie who aspires to become the Irish Mahler.

At least two acquaintances have recently told me they don't read Trevor's fiction because they don't like the people he writes about, a judgment that smacks as much of prejudice as aesthetics. Were they to read him, however, it's possible they might fall victim to what I believe is one of Trevor's (and any good writer's) especial gifts: that of making us care about people we don't especially care for. As it is, Trevor is particularly good at writing about both the diminished Anglo-Irish gentry and the provincial Irish petit bourgeois: the small town merchants, hoteliers, and managers who favor golf over hurling.

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