Book of the Week: Bad Dreams and Other Stories – Tessa Hadley

Elizabeth Strout. Alice Munro. Marilyn Robinson. This elite club of writers creates a small miracle with their exquisite, economical prose. I never ceased to be amazed by their ability to look behind the quotidian dailiness of peoples’ lives (mostly women’s) and unfurl for us a vast star map of the human heart.

Anyone who has read Tessa Hadley will add her to the top of this list. Hadley finally broke out in the U.S. with her bestselling novel, The Past, which the Washington Post compared to Anne Tyler and Alice Munro, noting that “the book offers similar deep pleasures. Like those North American masters of the domestic realm, Hadley crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural…. Extraordinary.”

Lily King commented:

Few writers have been as important to me as Tessa Hadley. She puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master, and The Past is a big, brilliant novel: sensual, wise, compelling—and utterly magnificent.”

As good as the novel is, I think Hadley is at her very best with the short stories. (The New Yorker has published 22.) She always seems able to lever the constraints of the shorter form in an exhilarating way. In her 2014 novel, Clever Girl, interlinked stories accrued in discreet story-like chapters to create the story of one woman’s life in the later 20th century. It’s easily the peer of the remarkable Olive Kitteridge and, like that book, remains one of the my most rewarding reading experiences.

So, this new collection from Hadley is a very happy event—and already has two starred advance reviews. I expect it to be reviewed widely.

Young women and girls take the measure of themselves in Hadley’s remarkably precise and perceptive collection of short stories, set in the middle-class Britain of the 1950s and ’60s and in the present day. Chance encounters disrupt the punctiliously observed rituals of daily life, often leading to a lifetime of consequence for Hadley’s characters…. In subtly insightful and observant prose, Hadley writes brilliantly of the words and gestures that pass unnoticed “in the intensity of [the] present” but echo without cease.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Quietly explosive short stories that reveal, with unsparing precision, the epic drama simmering beneath the mundanity of everyday life…. Achingly lovely, though never sentimental, Hadley’s collection renders common lives with exquisite grace.”
Kirkus (starred review)

Bad Dreams and Other Stories (9780062476661) by Tessa Hadley. $26.99 hardcover. 5/16/17 on sale.

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