Married Love: And Other Stories

By Tessa Hadley

(HarperCollins, $14.99, 203 pages)


Who is this author?

Tessa Hadley, who lives in Wales and teaches literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University, has four much-praised novels to her credit. “Accidents in the Home,” “Everything Will Be All Right,” “The Master Bedroom” and “The London Train,” named a New York Times Notable Book. Her earlier collection, “Sunstroke,” also was an NYT Notable. You may be familiar with her work from reading The New Yorker, in which her stories frequently appear: six from this collection were published in the magazine.

What is this book about?

The thread that runs through Hadley’s work is class, that very British (but in fact, universal) determinant of where people stand in relation to one another. Speech, accents, dress, furnishings: all are signifiers, whether we acknowledge it or not. In this collection, Hadley gives us people – largely women – who make choices, often bad ones, without foreseeing the likely consequences. They are not always likeable, but are always fascinating.

Why you’ll like it:

Hadley writes with a sure hand; her characters are sharply drawn and their situations ring true. She gets inside their skin and brings her readers along. She is a quiet writer who tells her stories with subtle power, painting portraits with a pointillist’s skill at using tiny details to evoke the whole. These are stories about families that are domestic in nature but not at all blissful, yet they will haunt the discerning reader long after she finishes the book.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “Every story in this very English collection by New Yorker contributor Hadley juxtaposes the promise, even magnificence, of a rich inner life against the disappointing banality of everyday existence. In the title story, the author allows a willful girl to fling herself headlong into an ill-advised marriage, then makes us watch as all her pluck, all her potential, slowly dries up. In other stories, the author gives her characters refuge—a fecund greenhouse, the city of Venice, a house remembered from childhood—but ensures that they are not happy there, that each place is dark or rainy or infested with off-putting people. …Disillusion is Hadley’s stock in trade. She is kind to the families she creates—mothers and fathers especially are respected, even revered. But when she dissects them with her sharp instruments of observation, she strikes nerves that can cause pain.”

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2012, says: “Novels and stories being such different beasts, it’s rare to find a writer gifted at both: the quick sketches and implications of a short piece; the steady build and satisfying arc of an extended one. Four-time novelist Tessa Hadley deftly handles any length, as her outstanding new collection confirms. Despite the book’s title, “Married Love,” these dozen taut stories are decidedly unsentimental. In “Friendly Fire,” a middle-aged mother cleans toilets in a warehouse, reflecting on her hapless husband and soldier son; in “Post Production,” a film director dies suddenly in his kitchen, leaving a bizarre tangle of relationships behind. Hadley has a special talent for opening lines: “After the sex, he fell asleep,” reads one. Only a writer at the top of her game could make you care what happens next. You will.”

“These stories are rich in character and steeped in class consciousness. In the exquisite title story, a 19-year-old violin student shocks her family by announcing that she intends to marry her music teacher, a married man 45 years her senior. To no one’s surprise, things don’t go well: three babies come along in rapid succession, her music career is forgotten, and other young women catch her husband’s eye. Other stories capture familiar slice-of-life moments: a cleaning woman, diligently scrubbing toilets in an industrial work site, is preoccupied with her son’s safe return from Afghanistan; a rectory-raised college student visiting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time overhears his mother ridiculing her posh accent; and a schoolgirl’s new friendship with a girl from “the Homes” is a cause for concern to her mother. VERDICT … many small moments of everyday life made recognizable by an exceptional storyteller. Highly recommended,” says Library Journal “A subtly incisive vision and the ability to conjure full  fictional scenarios in limited spaces characterize the new collection by a noted British writer. In her second volume of stories, Hadley considers private fears, bad decisions, tipping points and unexpected assertions of free will, via 12 short fictions, six originally published in The New Yorker. …Shrewd, insightful, unpredictable, Hadley’s stories successfully plumb the complicated
daily deeps,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

You can find this book at the Mark Twain Branch of the  Hartford Public Library.

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