Friday, July 7, 2017

Book Review: "Bad Dreams and Other Stories" by Tessa Hadley

So let's get this out of the way first: contrary to what the title and the cover design of this book may lead you to believe (as it did me), this is not a collection of horror stories, or tales of the macabre. In fact, if any of the stories in this new collection cause you to have, well, bad dreams, it is because of the immensely accurate way Tessa Hadley captures everyday life and the single moments when things change.

The 10 stories in Hadley's collection are mostly about ordinary people going about their regular everyday lives. In some of the stories, one incident causes a shift for the protagonist; in others, it's a series of events. For some, the shift is felt by them alone, while for others, the shift changes the course of lives, dramatically or imperceptibly.

Some of my favorite stories included: "Flight," in which a woman tries to mend her relationship with her estranged sister while visiting their hometown in the United Kingdom; "Experience," about a lonely woman living in a borrowed house who discovers some secrets about the house's owner when she finds her diaries; "One Saturday Morning," which tells of a young girl whose parents receive an unexpected visit from an old friend who comes with sad news; "The Stain," about a housekeeper caring for an old man, who finds out some less-than-savory things about his past; "An Abduction," in which a young girl on the cusp of womanhood accepts a ride from a group of older boys; and "Silk Brocade," about a piece of, you guessed it, silk brocade fabric, and its journey throughout the years.

I have been meaning to read Hadley's work for some time, but some other book always seems to distract me. I thought reading a collection of her stories would be a good introduction to her writing style. I definitely like the way she tells stories—her characters are well-developed and intriguing, and she has a lyrical touch where imagery and setting are concerned. I definitely intend to pick up one of her novels in the near future.

The thing is, though, while I enjoyed a number of these stories, I wasn't quite sure of the point of some of them. A few of the stories seemed fairly inconsequential, and I found myself wondering if I had missed some subtle key element, or if that particular story didn't really have a purpose beyond simply, well, telling a story.

For those of you wary of short stories because you think they require more concentration and focus, I'd recommend this collection, because the stories are well-told, yet for the most part, they are uncomplicated plot-wise. I'm glad to finally read Hadley's work, and look forward to seeing her talent in long form sometime in the near future.

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