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Pickle Me This

July 3, 2020

The Moment of Tenderness, by Madeleine L’Engle

It’s a gamble, a collection of previously unpublished short stories discovered after an author’s death, particularly if, as with The Moment of Tenderness, by Madeleine L’Engle, most of these works were written during her wilderness years, after she’d achieved only modest commercial success with her novels and hadn’t yet published A Wrinkle in Time. Even worse, I read her first novel The Small Rain last year, and I thought it was pretty awful.

So what was I getting into with this new book, in hardcover no less, bewitched by the gorgeous cover design, and its prominent display in a local bookshop window?

Mercifully, it all turned out fine. And that nearly all these stories are worlds away from A Wrinkle in Time actually suits me, as I’m much more a fan of L’Engle’s realism anyway. Many of these stories autobiographical and laid out as a coming-of-age, with child protagonists at the beginning, growing older as the stories progress. Many of these feature a character called Madeleine, even married to a man called Hugh Franklin, as L’Engle was, though Madeleine L’Engle’s husband was on All My Children, and the Hugh Franklin in the book runs a general store. (And as always, it is this way that L’Engle blurs fiction and reality that I find as fascinating as any questions posed by sci-fi or fantasy.)

The middle stories were my favourite, New England fiction that channelled Shirley Jackson, who was L’Engle’s near contemporary. One of the stories even features witches. Others recall the works of John Cheever, stories of suburban dissatisfaction. And there’s even a turn to the Southern Gothic–L’Engle had a transient childhood, but roots in the south.

I loved reading this book, though I am not sure it’s necessarily going to appeal to anybody who ever had a thing for Meg Murry. For L’Engle completists however, and also short story fans, there is so much to delight in.

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