Saturday, August 6, 2016
Another strong story by Hadley with some neat twists but a weird title
I continue to be impressed by Tessa Hadley's short stories - as noted in earlier posts it took me a while to come around to her, or maybe she's just getting better? - seemed that her earlier stories were bland and undramatic, a moment in life that didn't always ring true for me, but over the past several years she's become, it seems to me anyway, much more adept at narrative, plot, and the element of surprise. Take the story in the current NYer, Dido's Lament: a 30+ woman caught in the pre-xmas rush in central London gets knocked about by a guy pushing his way into the Underground station and she pursues him through the crowd and right onto the platform, planning to tell him what's what - and when she catches up to him sees that: He's her ex-husband! Now, I don't quite believe this "cute meet," or re-meet, but that aside Hadley builds the story very well: they decide to go for a drink to catch up, he invites her to his house, she has some trepidation about meeting his new wife (and kids), he tells her they're out of town, and she feels even more trepidation but agrees to go anyway. We think we know where this is heading, but Hadley pulls off a few surprises (spoilers): After a glass of apparently pretty good wine, she leaves - and then we go into both of their minds, and see for the firsts time that the husband, since the bitter breakup, has dreamed of bring his ex into his new house, not a have sex w/ her or make up w/ her in any way but to show her what a success he's become: he was truly seducing her, but not in the way that we'd supposed or guessed. She, on the other hand, goes off into a rainy night, her ankle sore from their Underground collision (she never confronts him on this), and realizes, with some ambiguity, that she does not have what he has achieved but she is better off "free." As a slight twist at the end, for some off reason, husband doesn't get rid of the plastic carrier (with a jazzy top that she'd purchased?) but rather stows it away in a corner of his study - surely a dangerous act that may cost him later. His ambiguity, possibly his fetishism, gives the story another neat twist. The title, though? A reference to an opera based on the Aeneid in which she has a lead role - does it really fit this story? She's not about to burn herself on a pyre because her lover is heading off to establish Rome, right? I don't quite get the reference there, sorry.