Another Tessa Hadley story about a train – this time a short story in The New Yorker – Under the Sign of the Moon – involved me with her usual talent for creating relationships in unusual encounters. What better place than a train for meeting strangers. In this tale, Greta is traveling to visit her daughter, and meets a strange persistent man on the train. Hadley melds the landscape around Liverpool with Greta’s life, describing the moving scene as Greta remembers her past, and wonders about her fragile future. The ending offers a chilling possibility – who was that young man, really?
Hadley offers her perspective in an interview with Deborah Treisman –This Week in Fiction – Tessa Hadley, but you might want to read the short story in the March 24th issue and decide for yourself.
Fay Weldon completes her trilogy of British upstairs/downstairs society in The New Countess. All the familiar characters are back, but if you’ve forgotten their assorted scandals and peccadilloes, as I had, Weldon fills in the back story. The new countess does not emerge until the last chapter, when an accidental shooting at a hunting party conveniently wraps up the lives and stories of the three-book saga.
Maybe my expectations were too high but this final book was not as gripping or as fun as the first two. Although I enjoyed the machinations of the various lords and ladies and the downstairs staff interventions and gossip, the story seemed stale.
In a recent interview with Carole Burns, Weldon proclaims the novel as dead:
“…the novel has become just entertainment. Fifty or 60 years ago, the novel was the only way you had of finding out what was in other people’s heads. You didn’t know anything other than what you read in fiction about how lives were for other people. But now we have film and television, and the novel as a source of understanding and information is no longer really necessary.”
Maybe that’s the reason – television – Downton Abbey is being broadcast where I live now, but I read the first two novels in that slough of downtime, awaiting the return of the Dowager Duchess played by Maggie Smith. Maybe watching has become more entertaining.
When the local book club decided to start the year with a discussion of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, I dutifully got on the library wait list. Holding steady at number 44 on the list for weeks, I found the book’s summary and thought the sad story of a favorite artist uncle dying of AIDS in New York City of the 1980s might be one I’d skip.
Then I read a short review by Liberty Hardy:
” I thought (this book) would be so sad that I would end up needing to take breaks. This wasn’t so. It was sad, but it was also beautiful …Brunt did a good job of not holding the reader’s head under water, which isn’t always the case with authors who are trying to pull your heartstrings. I had a nine hour travel day that flew by because of this book.”
Any book that can hold a reader’s attention on a long plane ride is worth finding. So I’ve downloaded the book to my Kindle, and am engrossed in the family drama and social stigma that young June, the narrator, seems to be navigating well. I am looking forward to reading the whole story.
Short stories are on my radar – with Alice Munro winning the Nobel for her short stories and Sarah Hall’s story winning the BBC short story award for her tale of a woman turning into a fox ( a story I have yet to find anywhere in print but the BBC reading was enticing). Tom Perrotta’s Nine Inches on my Kindle was a funny, irreverent collection that had me laughing, crying, musing, and reflecting on my own experiences. With the same quirky perspective he gave to people in crisis in The Leftovers, Perrotta changes ordinary events into devastating moments.
Each of the ten short stories focuses on a dreary middle-class suburbanite facing inner turmoil for an irretrievable life mistake, and emerging changed through events that could happen anywhere to anyone. The only problem – each story has a depressing, nevertheless realistic, ending. After reading the first six, I stopped.
The title refers to middle school teachers using a piece of nine-inch tape to measure and enforce safe space between students who are slow dancing, with the focus on one teacher who reminisces on his lost chances. “Senior Season” targets a football player who suffers a head injury that keeps him from playing; “Grade My Teacher” focuses on a teacher obsessed with her online evaluations and ranking; “Kiddie Pool” has a man discovering his wife’s infidelity when he sneaks into his dead neighbor’s garage to use his pump to inflate a pool for his grandchildren; “The Smile on Happy Chang’s Face” – the most enjoyable of the lot – targets the rivalry between coaches of a Little League game with a talented young girl as the pitcher.
Good stories…well written…maybe I’ll go back to read the rest later.
Two strangers make a unique connection on a commuter train that changes their lives in Priya Basil’s “quick read” short novel – Strangers on the 16:02. In a little over 200 pages, Dr. Kerm, traveling home after visiting his dying grandfather at the hospital, and Helen, a thirty something woman who has just been told that the identity of the anonymous obscene phone caller who has been harassing her is her brother-in-law, literally bump into each other when a crowd of students overwhelms the train. Three of these students significantly alter the atmosphere in the train as well as Kerm and Helen’s relationship. It all happens quickly, beginning and ending on the train. When the train reaches the station, the story abruptly ends, leaving the reader to decide the fate of the characters. Captivating, fun, quick – a tale for all travelers whether by train or plane – you just never know what will happen or whom you may meet.
I found this story by accident as I scrolled through my Kindle recommendations, and was intrigued by the title and the brevity. After finishing the story, I discovered that “Quick Reads” is part of a British Literacy Project, focusing on motivating adult functional readers. Bestselling authors, including Alexander McCall Smith, James Patterson, Minette Waters, and others have contributed short novels to the project.