Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Under the Sign of the Moon," by Tessa Hadley

Okay...I'm now fully convinced the New Yorker will accept and print any piece of fiction within its pages, regardless of quality, as long as it's written by one of the NYer's "approved" fiction writers. There's no other explanation for how this completely under-cooked story--"Under the Sign of the Moon," by Tessa Hadley--was allowed to make it into the magazine.

If I were the fiction editor I'd have, at the very least, sent it back to the author and said, "Add another 1,000 words and work on this some more"; at the very most, I'd have said, "You know what, Ms. Hadley...maybe not this time." This story is a like a dinner in which the waiter takes your entree away while you're still eating, draws you a picture of dessert, and then hands you the bill. I don't think I've ever felt quite so cheated by a NYer story.

I'm not a big Tessa Hadley fan, to begin with. I find her characters flimsy and not very likable, and the endings of her stories always seem contrived and not quite as shocking or upsetting as she (clearly) intends them to be. The sad thing is, she actually had me interested in the main character for most of the story and I was fully ready to let this story change my opinion of her fiction.

The story has a pretty interesting premise: A middle-aged English woman, Greta, travels from London to Liverpool to spend the week with her daughter. Greta is recovering from an unnamed illness, probably some kind of cancer, and is a little unsure of herself. The illness and treatment have shaken her confidence in herself and her appearance. She meets an odd-looking male stranger on the train and, despite her attempts to ignore him, he ultimately succeeds in getting her to speak a few words to him and even have coffee at the train station. They meet for a drink later in the week and the stranger, drunk, makes an embarrassing and completely unwarranted pass at Greta in the restaurant -- burying his face in her lap (WTF?) -- and she tells him to leave.

About midway through the story I knew something was wrong; I looked at the amount of words that remained and I just knew the author had written herself into a situation she had no hope of getting out of in a fulfilling way. It was a great set-up, but a sad and uninteresting finish.

I would like to point out that Hadley is good at inhabiting a character's head space and articulating the way the human mind works, the ways that memories drift in and out of our minds, the ways past experience influences our behavior, the reasons we tell ourselves for the things we do, etc. She's really good at this, actually, and she's as good a writer of sentences as any contemporary author I've read. It's just...she needs to work on the resolutions to these stories. A story isn't "over" just because you write "The End" after the last sentence. I wanted more out of this story and I wanted something redeeming or at least valuable to happen to the main character, but that didn't happen here.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…