Tessa Hadley: “An Abduction”

Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.  Tessa Hadley’s “An Abduction” was originally published in the July 9 & 16, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

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I have generally really enjoyed Hadley’s many pieces in The New Yorker. They unravel slowly and bring familiar bits of the past forth with unique characters. “An Abduction” was similar in tone and style to what we’ve had before, but unfortunately it didn’t quite do it for me. Strangely, though, I do believe — as usual with me and Hadley — that I will remember it and the characters for quite some time; Hadley again does a great job developing her character. The problem is — and I don’t usually complain about this — she cuts it short.

Here’s how it begins:

Jane Allsop was abducted when she was fifteen, and nobody noticed.

That’s an intense and provocative beginning, but the story (purposefully, I believe, and to great effect) does not deliver the thrill we might expect from “An Abduction.” The first few pages take us through one of Jane’s mornings in upper-class Surrey in the 1960s. We know she is about to get abducted, but Hadley let’s us spend some time with her on this warm day as she wanders from thing to thing, never quite finding what it is she is looking for, feeling there’s something she wants but unable to find it. She’s both too young and too old to enjoy the day.

Jane was listless, her mind a blank with vivid little jets of dissatisfaction firing off in it. Real children, somewhere, were wholesomely intent on untying boats or building dams or collecting butterflies to asphyxiate in jars (as she and Robin had done one summer). She should be like them, she reproached herself; or she should be more like some of the girls at school, painting on makeup, then scrubbing it off, nurturing crushes on friends’ brothers she’d only ever seen from a distance, cutting out pictures of pop stars from Jackie magazine. Jane knew that these girls were ahead of her in the fated trek toward adulthood, which she had half learned about in certain coy biology lessons. Yet theirs seemed also a backward step into triviality, away from the thing that this cerulean day — munificent, broiling, burning across her freckled shoulders, hanging so heavily on her hands — ought to become, if only she knew better how to use it.

Up the road come three young men, on break from Oxford, also anxious to find something to satisfy whatever urges they have. They need a girl, they say, and when they see Jane they figure she’ll do. At this point, we know that Jane is going to go with them willingly, and as selfish and despicable as the three Oxford boys are, they never become the dangerous boys we might expect. Yes, things happen, and Jane believes she is on the path to adulthood. Enjoying the change she feels, Jane is deflated when it becomes obvious she’s going to go back home, the path she started merely a cul-de-sac that, somehow, stunts her for life.

In the last few paragraphs, we fast-forward through Jane’s life (as well as the life of one of the boys, who will not remember this day), and it’s here, right when I’m completely involved in what that day did to Jane, that I wanted more since Hadley was at least interested enough in the consequences to summarize them. Unlike Munro, who can summarize a life in such a way we almost feel we’ve lived it, here Hadley seems to be wrapping up a bunch of things she wanted to describe but didn’t have the space to develop. Central to the story is Jane’s state of limbo between that childhood of “cerulean” days and adulthood, and, when it becomes clear she’s staying in that limbo for a long time, we get more, but it’s essentially no more than an afterthought. Consequently, the story, despite its promise, didn’t do much more than many other stories about the threshold of adulthood.

It may well be that as this story and its characters sit in my mind for a few days, I’ll start to find more and more to them, but I’m doubtful. Nevertheless, I was completely engaged and, as I said, won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

5 thoughts on “Tessa Hadley: “An Abduction””

  1. Carole Vopat says:

    Trevor, your reading was right on target; I too felt the let down at the end. I suppose, too, I wanted more ppsychological ‘ppointers’–why couldn’t Jane recover from her ‘abduction’? because it was the first time she took a risk and lived in high excitement? Thanks for your comments.

  2. Jon says:

    Funny, I felt the exact sort of letdown in Hadley’s other stories. It’s a particularly big fall since I find Hadley’s prose so vivid and sort of evocative when it comes to her characters. (But 2 negative voices is enough to convince me not to invest the time on this one.)

  3. jerry says:

    I think the first sentence pulls you in fast though it’s misleading. I agree with Trevor, I am not sure I exactly like this story but it sticks with you as does the character of Jane.

    On an unrelated note the diary excerpts from Mavis Gallant in this week’s issue were brilliant..I need to read more of her work.

  4. Ken says:

    I felt the fast-forward here worked pretty well (although it’s not on the level of Munro) and managed to place this day in its proper context. I like how those with more memories and satisfactions remember less which is what happens with Daniel. The style here is really amazing-the subtlety with which she describes someone’s thoughts or expressions, the quick trips into other characters’ consicousness. I also like the lack of moralizing or hyperbole. This is a risky experience but like most it ends up without gory fatality or pregnancy (nice that this is hinted at but not a result of Jane’s acts).

  5. lotusgreen says:

    The story certainly had its things to think about, it is words, after all. But what there was to feel — there was the story. I have Synaesthesia, and it has occurred to me now that that has an effect on how I experience a story (and everything else, for that sake). If you have happened across any others of my comments here, you might have noticed that a big complaint I had about Eykelboom were the colors.

    This story is introduced into color so rich even the name of it is rich, “cerulean.” Shades of peacocks and skies and oceans; we swim into this story. And we are led throughout through lights and darks, and the pressure and presence of skin, its internal drunkenness and folly. The feel of peeling off a wet suit. The frisson of one’s first time. And back at the beginning, that moment, the very color of her skin changes, her hair burnishes; that very moment has detached her from all she know, though she didn’t know it at the time.

    And we learn that heartbreak is drenched in white; has she really lost her future or her innocence? That’s what was abducted and lost forever. As have ours all.

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