Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Moment of Tenderness


The Moment of Tenderness / Madeleine L'Engle
NY: Grand Central, c2020
285 p.

This is a collection of previously unpublished short stories ranging over the earlier years of Madeleine L'Engle's writing career, now gathered by her granddaughter. It's an interesting project, and shows the development of some of L'Engle's themes and her style. 

There are 18 stories, mostly all written in the 40s and 50s, moving from her early writing years in college to just before the publication of A Wrinkle in Time. They are different in setting -- from rural locations to her familiar New York -- and reveal some of her preoccupations with faith and her own personal experiences transmuted into fiction, much of which shows up in the novels of her later career as well. A thorough introduction by her granddaughter Charlotte examines the place of these stories in both L'Engle's life and her writing career. 

I enjoyed this -- I am a L'Engle fan, have been for years, and have read nearly everything she's ever written. So this was a nice addition to the collection! I appreciated how this collection ranges from realism to more speculative stories too, showing her interest in science and fantasy and how they combine. 

The evolution of her style was fascinating to see too, although even her early college stories are already really good and show her control of language and the relationships that are a strong element of her subject matter. The prickly mother-daughter relationships of a couple of the stories are clearly drawn, while a couple of the later stories are more speculative and focused on ideas. The range is wide, within her clearly defined style and subject choice. The concept of the collection is interesting, and I think it really worked. 

A couple of my faves from this set: 

The Foreign Agent, about a young woman under her mother's thumb who blossoms when she meets her mother's new, young literary agent when they move to New York.

Poor Little Saturday, a fantasy with a witch and a camel and an abandoned plantation house, which reads almost like a Ray Bradbury story

The Fact of the Matter, set in a little town much like L'Engle's rural Connecticut, which is the one that felt most grounded in a specific place and time to me. About outsiders and belonging and facades and people in all their complexity.

If you've read this, or will, I hope you'll share your favourites too. 


  1. I like the sound of this collection of short stories, which would contain a lot of history as well. I'd be interested in the role of women in this short fiction, of course. Very nice review!

    1. It's an interesting collection, lots of variety in form but you can tell it's the same voice.

  2. I'm looking forward to this one. Funny, I never think of her as writing about New York. I guess, even though I've read several of her books, I still always jump to that stormy dark night under the stars with the cocoa waiting!

    1. That is definitely the classic setting :)

  3. I really loved this book. What I found most surprising were the stories that had a Shirley Jackson vibe! I had never properly considered the ways in which they were contemporaries.


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