Monday, June 01, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Sunstroke and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

It's in the context of a short story collection that the themes and formula of Tessa Hadley's writing becomes evident and despite the repetitive nature of such narratives, there's something compelling about them. For the most part, it's due to the author's skill as she's able to weave the most brilliant of imagery when necessary and touch upon snippets of the human condition. In Sunstroke and Other Stories, a good chunk of the stories deal with some sort of sexual affair, but Hadley attacks it from different directions. Sometimes, it's the catalyst for the narrator's epiphanies. At other times, it's merely a detail that's a symptom of the central conflict. And without skipping a beat, Hadley's domestic realism is always grounded by character, the foundation with which she builds her stories.

There are ten stories in this collection and as one goes through them, Hadley's skill rises to the surface. Her dialogue for example is brief but divulges a lot. And again, there's the recurring theme of Hadley's stories, that wondrous spark of life that flashes and burns out all too quickly. And when it comes to affairs, real or imagined, Hadley is unapologetic and gives us a different view of the subject matter. There's a beauty to each story in this book although "Phosphorescence" for me is the quintessential Hadley short story as she brings with it all her best elements. A nostalgic past? Check. A chance to relive that moment? Check. Characters with history? Check. Ambiguous ending? Check. There's also a wonderful juxtaposition between the women in the protagonist's life and it's a subtle detail that enriches the reading.

Hadley is a terrific writer and successfully utilizes many of the tools readily available to her. While she may lack versatility, she doesn't really need it as her narratives are quite effective. Sunstroke and Other Stories gives us a glimpse of something forgotten or lost, a resonance that's constant in Hadley's fiction.

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