|A William Trevor novel offers the pleasures of a world so thoroughly imagined it makes real life seem murky and badly conceived. When, as in Death in Summer or in his previous novel, Felicia's Journey, his subtle vision meets the rigorous pacing of the thriller, the result chills to the bone. Like a mystery, Death in Summer begins with one premature demise and ends with another; in between, however, Trevor explores the darkest corners of the human heart with a subtlety and compassion rarely seen in works of suspense.|
Handsome Thaddeus Davenant has just buried his young, wildly generous wife Letitia--a rescuer of stray dogs and a champion of street drunks. In contrast, Thaddeus is a kind of emotional cripple, scarred by a childhood spent lonely and unloved in his ancestral Quincunx House. He married Letitia for her money, as is immediately clear. Yet he would have loved her, if he had been able, and after their child is born he feels for the first time "possessed by an affection he had been unable to feel for anyone since his own infancy." When Letitia dies, victim of a freak accident, and none of the nannies interviewed prove suitable, her mother moves in to care for the baby. Mrs. Iveson has always considered Thaddeus "shoddy goods," and their dÃ©tente only gradually thaws into something resembling warmth. Meanwhile, Pettie, one of the rejected nannies, has "taken a shine" to Thaddeus--with increasingly ominous results.
Pettie inhabits a world far removed from the genteel decay of Quincunx House. Reared in the nightmarish Morning Star home, where the only affection was the creepy kind dispensed by her "Sunday uncle," Pettie is poor, broken, and pathologically starved for love. Trevor chronicles her obsession with Thaddeus in a way that makes clear both Pettie's humanity and her capacity to do serious harm. Still, this is a hopeful book. Grim as Pettie's story may be, she causes stony-hearted Thaddeus to feel the first stirrings of human sympathy, "as the warmth of blood might miraculously seep into a shadow, or anesthesia be lifted by a jolt...." Throughout William Trevor's long and storied career, his subject has been nothing less than the problem of evil, and in Death in Summer, he makes a convincing case for its origins in the absence of love. --Mary Park