TESSA HADLEY

PS Magazine - - BOOKS FICTION -

The Past is about the sum­mer re­union of four mid­dle-aged sib­lings—three sis­ters and a brother— in the English coun­try­side at their grand­par­ents’ de­crepit home. Gath­ered to­gether with the sib­lings are the brother’s new wife, his teen-age daugh­ter, one of the sis­ter’s two small chil­dren, and the col­lege-age son of an­other sis­ter’s ex-boyfriend. One can im­me­di­ately see the sym­bol­ism of “the past” in the house, and the loom­ing de­ci­sion to let it go or to hold onto it. It be­comes the set­ting for the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the sib­lings, who carry their fam­ily bag­gage in their per­son­al­i­ties. They chafe at one an­other in petty ways that no one can un­der­stand nor change. The two out­siders, the new wife, and the ex-boyfriend’s son, serve as con­stant re­minders of the larger world be­yond the fam­ily. They are both re­sented and needed by the sib­lings.

A sec­ond se­cret place within this drama is a run- down, aban­doned cot­tage hid­den in the woods, which serves as the lo­cus of hid­den de­sires and fears. It is a source of con­flict that re­mains un­known to the self-in­volved sib­lings, but is im­por­tant to the two young chil­dren’s ex­plo­ration of the con­fus­ing sub­jects of death and sex­u­al­ity. It is also the place of a past event, which takes the reader to 1968, when the sib­lings were young and their mother had re­turned to her par­ents’ home dur­ing a brief sep­a­ra­tion with their fa­ther.

Ms. Hadley has a gift— she de­scribes peo­ple and places in el­e­gant prose that el­e­vates the mun­dane. She also has pen­e­trat­ing in­sight into the psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional worlds of women and men, the young and old, and an abil­ity to de­scribe hu­man flaws with com­pas­sion. ■

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