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Bad Dreams and Other Stories

Review

Bad Dreams and Other Stories

“Jane Allsop was abducted when she was fifteen, and nobody noticed.” This startling and compelling line begins “An Abduction,” the first story in Tessa Hadley’s fantastic short story collection, BAD DREAMS AND OTHER STORIES.

Jane, living in Surrey, England, in the 1960s, is lonely on summer break from boarding school but also both apathetic and fast approaching womanhood. Feeling misunderstood and unappreciated by her family, she finds herself standing, tears in her eyes, as a car of three boys drive past her house in a three-seat convertible. The quartet goes to the home of one of the boys, Nigel, where they begin an afternoon and evening of drinking and sensual exploration. Jane returns home early the next morning both changed and more fully herself. She is typical of Hadley’s characters: emotionally isolated, thoughtful, observant, and on the cusp of realization and even transformation.

"There is so much loveliness in BAD DREAMS but also much sorrow and regret as these characters navigate tricky and complex emotional territory, often either finding themselves or purposefully ignoring essential aspects of their own psyches."

The stories in BAD DREAMS are so precisely worded and the characters’ interior lives so finely presented, making them such a pleasure to read. The revelations are always careful and mostly partial. Hadley is less interested in resolution and more focused on capturing and describing moments both quiet and pivotal. She has a deep compassion for her characters yet allows readers more than a glimpse at their flaws.

In “One Saturday Morning,” 10-year-old Carrie finds herself alone at home while her parents run errands. She is saved from the boredom of practicing piano by the unexpected arrival of Dom Smith, a friend of her parents. The evening unfolds with the news of the death of Dom’s wife and Carrie’s voyeuristic view into the world of the adults at a party. Her realization that she may have seen something “headlong and reckless and sweet, unavailable to children” means that she is moving away from childhood.

“Flight” is about the visit of a narcissistic woman to her mostly estranged family under the pretense of meeting her niece’s newborn son. As much as readers may want to believe in Claire’s good intentions, she proves frustratingly selfish and clueless throughout the story. Hadley masterfully sets the scene of the reunion: Claire’s claustrophobic working class English childhood home.

“Silk Brocade” provides readers with a bit more closure than some of the other stories as we learn what becomes of the ambitious young designer and dressmaker Ann Gallagher years after the day she spends at Thwaite Park, the estate where an old acquaintance is set to marry into. Ann’s dreams and goals share much in common with those of many of the women and girls in BAD DREAMS, though each story feels distinct and fully realized.

One standout tale is “Her Share of Sorrow,” which depicts young Ruby, a dull enigma to her dynamic family, who finally, in the attic of a holiday home, finds the stories that unlock a depth and passion in her.

There is so much loveliness in BAD DREAMS but also much sorrow and regret as these characters navigate tricky and complex emotional territory, often either finding themselves or purposefully ignoring essential aspects of their own psyches.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 19, 2017

Bad Dreams and Other Stories
by Tessa Hadley

  • Publication Date: May 16, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062476661
  • ISBN-13: 9780062476661