The New Yorker: “Experience” by Tessa Hadley

130121_2013_p154January  21, 2013: “Experience” by Tessa Hadley

I didn’t want to like this story because I think the New Yorker publishes too many Hadley stories. (Or it just seems that way; there was only one in 2012 but four in 2011.) Usually they’re quite good, though, and, reluctantly, I have to admit that this one is, too.

Laura is splitting from her husband—his idea—and since she can’t afford the rent on their flat, he suggests that she leave. (Thoughtful, no?) She has no place to go, but she lucks into a house-sitting gig when Hana needs to go to the States for a few months. It sounds like a great house, Hana give her the run of the place, and it’s just what Laura needs. Laura, though, is a snoop (not that I blame her, honestly), and when she realizes that Hana has tucked a lot away in the locked attic, she looks for the key and pokes around. And she finds some interesting stuff, including sex toys and a racy diary of Hana’s affair with someone called Julian.

Who promptly shows up! His arrival is owing to some camping gear stowed in Hana’s house—in the attic. He retrieves the gear but then comes back, asking Laura if he can leave some other personal things in the attic because he’s leaving his wife. Laura, who hasn’t been doing anything and is running out of money, is turned on by Julian (and by her reading of what he and Hana had been doing), so she’s quite happy to have him back. He even cooks her dinner (she nearly faints from hunger after a glass of wine) and Laura is more than open to the idea of seduction. But then . . .

The story is not behind the paywall, so you can read it for yourself.  I liked the ending because it seemed to be heading in a fairly trite direction, but then swerved. The characters here—at least Hana and Julian—are memorable. I don’t have nearly as clear a picture of Laura, except when she’s dressed in Hana’s clothes. All in all, Laura’s stay at Hana’s place is quite an “experience,” to echo the story’s title, and Laura discovers that she’s not quite as inexperienced as she thought she was. She’s able, with this discovery, to move from her ex-husband.

I liked it. Early front-runner for Story of the Year. (The link for the Q&A with Tessa Hadley wasn’t working when I posted this, so I shall return to update the post when it is.)

The New Yorker: “The Women” by William Trevor

CV1_TNY_01_14_13Mattotti.inddJanuary 14, 2013: “The Women” by William Trevor

If you are the one person on the planet who has not read a story or seen a movie or television program about an unwed mother who has given her child up for adoption and then later sought out the grown child, you might find this story by the great William Trevor appealing. Otherwise, I’d be very surprised if you do.

The story’s behind the paywall, so here’s the gist: Cecilia grows up in the home of her father, her mother long gone. She is tutored at home and has no friends. She’s bored, and eventually the father sends her off to boarding school. It seems like a perfectly good school and she makes some friends, and on weekends her father comes down to visit. But there are these two older women who hang around, watching, and Cecilia finds them dumpy and odd. (The reader, on the other hand, is reasonably sure that one of the women is Cecilia’s mother.) We take a spin through the points of view of the women, learn that, in fact, one of them gave a child up, and eventually the other woman reveals that to Cecilia. Cecilia tells some of this to her father when they go away on holiday, and he apologizes for not telling Cecilia the truth, which appears to be that he acquired a child as a way to salvage a crumbling marriage but it didn’t work. Things could be worse. The End.

William Trevor is one of our greatest short story writers, but this one seems to have been written in his sleep.

The New Yorker: “The Lost Order” by Rivka Galchen

130107_2013_p154January 7, 2013: “The Lost Order” by Rivka Galchen

Read the Q&A with Rivka Galchen to understand the “seed” of this story, although that’s not particularly necessary in order to understand the story itself (which, by the way, is NOT behind the paywall, so you can go read it now, if you haven’t already).

We begin with a funny, tone-setting first line: “I was at home, not making spaghetti.” What a great way to establish this narrator’s voice and to begin to define her. And then by trying to explain why “not making spaghetti” is significant, she devolves into a wonderful digression about being unemployed, trying eat less, because . . . and then her digressive train of thought is interrupted by a phone call.  The caller I.D. says “unavailable” and she usually doesn’t answer such calls—I can relate—but on a whim she answers this one. I can relate to this, too.

The call is hilarious. It’s obviously a wrong number as the caller launches into his order for delivery, garlic chicken, etc., and the narrator promises delivery in 30 minutes. Which shows pretty clearly, if the opening digression hadn’t made the point, that this narrator is coming unglued.

She digresses some more and rambles, and there’s another call. The reader and the narrator both assume it’s the previous caller, but it’s not. It’s her husband. Husband? It’s something of a surprise that she has a husband, just as it’s going to be a surprise that we find out the career that she’s unemployed from is that of environmental lawyer. The husband wants her to go look for his lost wedding ring—uh-oh, is there trouble in the marriage?—but she doesn’t want to go look, and, funnily enough, he suggests that she go and “not look for it.” He may realize that she’s good at this. And his tone suggests that he realizes how close to losing it this woman is, so she’s temporarily mollified.

This time when the phone rings it’s the guy who placed the garlic chicken order, but she still doesn’t tell him he has the wrong number. Instead, she hangs up and goes to look for the ring, which the husband thinks he lost in a nearby park. She doesn’t find it, but she does have a day-long digression. When she returns home, the husband gently confronts her about the secret she’s been hiding and discloses that he’s found 3 severance checks for her. (She had claimed she quit her job.) And he points out what we already know—that she’s lost it and is just drifting.

And the story comes to an end, with her wondering.

Satisfying? Not really. Is she drifting because she was unhappy at work and so quit or got fired? Is she drifting because the world is full of mis-directed telephone calls? Not clear to me. You?