Married Love and other Stories by Tessa Hadley
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: November 20, 2012
Rating: 5 out of 5
Summary: Married Love is a masterful collection of short fiction from one of today’s most accomplished storytellers. These tales showcase the qualities for which Tessa Hadley has long been praised: her humor, warmth, and psychological acuity; her powerful, precise, and emotionally dense prose; her unflinching examinations of family relationships. Here are stories that range widely across generations and classes, exploring the private and public lives of unforgettable characters: a young girl who haunts the edges of her parents’ party; a wife released by the sudden death of her film-director husband; an eighteen-year-old who insists on marrying her music professor, only to find herself shut out from his secrets. In this stunning collection, Hadley evokes worlds that expand in the imagination far beyond the pages, capturing domestic dramas, generational sagas, wrenching love affairs and epiphanies, and distilling them to remarkable effect.
My thoughts: I’ve always enjoyed short story collections but don’t read them as often as I’d like. When I saw Tessa Hadley’s new book on TLC Book Tours review list, I was excited to read and review it. I read Hadley’s last novel The London Train. I thought her writing was sharp and clever and her characters fascinating. So I was interested to experience her short stories and am very happy I did.
Married Love may be the title but Hadley explores different kinds of love and relationships: love in family and friendships, burgeoning love, passionate love, old and settled love, tentative love and more. Her explorations show an acute understanding of human nature and interaction.
In the riveting title story, Married Love, Lottie, a young and single 18-year old, tells her family she’s going to be married. Their confusion and concern is heightened when Lottie announces, triumphantly that the groom is her music professor, Edgar. Lottie’s oblivious to the fact that he’s three times her age and married with grown children. She’s been flattered by Edgar and made to feel special. Lottie’s watched her older siblings move out and build exciting, interesting lives while she’s still at home. Hadley shows us how anger and resentment can cause impetuous choices, especially in someone young and immature like Lottie. This is, at its core, a story of rebellion and irony. Lottie relishes shocking her family. She expects them to see her as all grown-up, as someone important and special. Lottie doesn’t understand their dismay at her choice to marry an elderly man with a reputation for seducing his young female students. These are trite, unimportant details to Lottie who’s caught up in visions of a fantasy life with Edgar. Hadley captures, in Lottie, so many young women’s feelings of insecurity and their need for attention.
Lottie gets what she wants but her fantasy life shatters quickly and the reality of her behavior becomes clear. In not considering the big picture, Lottie finds herself, if not physically, emotionally and psychologically alone in the end, her days spent caring for their children with no room or time for music. Edgar’s character is clearly delineated but Lottie, the focus of this story, is more complex but certainly relatable to millions of young women. Hadley conveys powerful messages through strong, simple sentences packed with emotion that have an intense impact on the reader.
One of my favorite stories in this collection is She’s the One. Ally and Hilda meet briefly at a writer’s center. Hilda’s very serious and stoic, not given to talking about herself or making friends easily. Being 30 years Ally’s senior it’s not until they run into each other at the market, away from the center that they talk. Both women have been marked by traumas, so they sense a connection with each other. Hadley uses these women to illustrate how pain and suffering can bring people together who might otherwise have no connection at all. Hilda recognized Ally’s need for support, understanding and companionship because of her ability to relate to her suffering. These women form a bond and discover they can talk to each other about things they can’t reveal to other people. Hadley succeeds in telling, with insightful, beautiful prose, a heartfelt and painful story that shows how people can find solace and friendship in some very unlikely ways.
These two stories speak strongly to women, as do most of the stories in Hadley’s collection, but Hadley’s intuition and understanding of human interaction and relationships renders this story collection one able to be appreciated by anybody interested in better understanding fellow human beings. In other words, these stories are more along the lines of literature in their complexity, acuity and style and should be appreciated as such. In Married Love Hadley has written a fascinating, powerful and insightful collection of stories worthy of being read and savored by all. I highly recommend this collection.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Married Love and to Harper Perennial for an ARC of the book.