Tessa Hadley Explains Her Odd Short Story in The New Yorker
I just discovered the coolest, nerdiest thing--I wanted to write this blog post about "Under the Sign of the Moon," which is the latest Tessa Hadley short story in the March 17 issue of The New Yorker. I was basically going to write something about how I didn't understand the story--and then lo and behold, the online version has a section called, "This Week in Fiction" where they interview writers about the stories that have just appeared. I haven't read the author's explanation yet, so I'll say that the story starts with this older woman, Greta, who is on the train, going to visit her daughter in Liverpool. While she's traveling, she meets an odd young man dressed in this old-fashioned way, who seems to take an interest in her that's beyond the normal polite conversation. There's something about him that's unsettling, and he seems like he's spent lots of time in the company of older people. She tries to avoid him so she can just read her book, and she's also distracted with memories of her first love, this man she used to know and their love affair in Liverpool. That man, Ian, is now dead and she's with someone else, but there are a few scenes of her remembering her time with him. I guess this sets us up for her encounter with the present day young man, but he seems very different from how she's described Ian. So, she eventually encounters the kid again at a bar and he has brought her a book, and all along, she doesn't quite trust him--she feels like he's putting on his behavior, acting like a chameleon of sorts to adapt himself to whomever he's around, but then you wonder if she's right or if she's projecting somehow. The story ends with him leaving in dismay after embarrassing himself by spilling a drink on her and then making a pass at her, despite their 30 year age difference, but the book he gives her has her name written in it, even though he didn't know her name from the train. It was his mother's name, he has told her earlier. But I don't know what to make of it. Is he some kind of ghost symbol from her past? But now, see, I can read what the writer has to say about it and try to find the answer.
Here is the interview, if you would like to read it for yourself.