Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "One Saturday Morning" by Tessa Hadley

Issue: August 25th, 2014


Story: "One Saturday Morning"

Author: Tessa Hadley

Rating: Meh

Review: Tessa Hadley is adept at creating ornate little middle-class, 1960s/70s English worlds and peopling them with confused, curious, slightly precocious children and tweenagers and incompletely fleshed-out adult characters. It's as if all of her NYer stories (and maybe her whole oeuvre, I don't really know) could be taking place in the same neighborhood at the same time. While she's expert at creating these worlds she often falls flat when it comes to making anything significant happen within those worlds. We get a lot of detail about what the main character is thinking and feeling but when it finally comes to the plot or the "twist" or just the end-cap to the story, I'm usually left feeling disappointed. This story falls into that category.

With that said, I will admit I liked this story better than all the others I've read from her in the NYer (and that's the only place I've ever read her stuff). Why? Because Hadley manages to create some truly visceral tension; specifically, a scene in which the main character, a 10 year old girl named Carrie, is alone in her home with her parents' friend, a grown man in his mid-late 30s who is not a stranger to Carrie but not exactly familiar either.

I'm not sure exactly why Hadley put this moment in the story--it doesn't do anything to further the already meager (read: non-existent) plot--but it stands out. It's tense because, as Hadley is so great at inhabiting the minds of children, we the reader are able to get a real sense of the strange curiosity Carrie feels when she lets the man in her home, and we the reader are filled with that same curiosity. Not only are we reminded of the way we viewed adults and the adult world when we were children, but the adult in us is not quite sure what's going to happen and we can't help but be fearful that something inappropriate is going to happen. And so we share Carrie's relief when her parents come home.

The actual "plot" is that later Carrie catches the man and her mother engaged in a slightly untoward moment on the balcony of the apartment later that night. Nothing really happens out there on the balcony either, just a drunken attempted kiss and a sheepish recovery by Carrie's mom. I guess the fact that Carrie witnessed this is supposed to contribute to the foundation of her understanding, or mis-understanding, of the adult world, but I can't completely square this incident with her waiting alone with the man in her house the afternoon before. I just don't get it, and maybe there's nothing to get. So if this is just the cataloging of an awkward in interesting encounter in a 10 year old English girl's life...so be it, and well done, Ms. Hadley. But I'm still not going to feel shudders of delight when I see her name on the table of contents.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…