cover image Bad Dreams

Bad Dreams

Tessa Hadley. Harper, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-247666-1

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 the excellent “An Abduction,” Jane Allsop’s first sexual experience, at 15, is not traumatic in any ordinary sense, but affects her deeply—whereas the Oxford student she sleeps with retains no memory of it. In “Experience,” Laura, a new divorcée, finds that “letting go of the strain of yearning” is “a relief,” moving on with her life precisely because her attempt at seduction is unsuccessful. In loving families, too, differing viewpoints can lead to resentment and misunderstanding: “Her Share of Sorrow” is the account of an artist—the awkward 10-year-old daughter of an elegant couple—discovering her vocation in writing; in “Bad Dreams,” a bookish girl plays a prank that may have lasting repercussions for her parents’ marriage. And the young designer making a wedding dress for a classmate in “Silk Brocade” becomes witness to the impact of time and happenstance on even the richest and most beautiful material. 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. (May)