“Funny Little Snake”
by Tessa Hadley
from the October 17, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

Over the past decade, Tessa Hadley has become one of my favorite authors. I think The New Yorker editors agree that her work is exceptional and valuable, because they steadily publish her work. I wish, though, that I saw more general attention thrown her way. Ah well. Some day, hopefully. Until then, I am thrilled we keep getting to enjoy her work. Her last story to appear in The New Yorker was “Dido’s Lament,” and we had a nice long exchange about that story here. For me, it was one of the best stories published in the magazine last year; others appreciated the writing but not the story.

I haven’t even looked to see what “Funny Little Snake” is about. I’m planning to read it over lunch today. I look forward to seeing what we have this time, and to the conversation below!

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By | 2017-10-09T11:17:21+00:00 October 9th, 2017|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Tessa Hadley|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. William October 14, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    This was the 2nd New Yorker story by Tessa Hadley that I liked (the other was “The Swan”). I like this one because — although it started out with stereotyped characters and internal rumination — it eventually developed action and interaction (two elements that I listed in my theory of god writing in the Danticat exchange). It is not a pale imitation of William Trevor, as many Hadley stories seem to me to be. Here is my favorite sentence:

    “Valerie liked Robyn better with her face screwed into an ugly fury, kicking out wit her feet, the placid brushstrokes of her brows distorted to exclamation marks.”

    Yes! I want to read more stories about that woman.

  2. Roger October 15, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I found this brilliant and moving. The kind of fiction the New Yorker should publish much more often. It would probably make sense to stop reading New Yorker stories and use the time saved to read everything Hadley has written.

  3. Trevor Berrett October 16, 2017 at 11:52 am

    I agree with Roger: it’s “brilliant and moving.” I need to put more of my thoughts together and, with delight, plan to reread the story later today.

  4. William October 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Roger –

    In my memory this is not a typical Hadley story. Most of her main characters don’t take action like Valerie did. If you go back and read some of her others, let me know if you agree or disagree.

  5. Eric October 17, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    William–please share with us more of your “theory of god writing”. OK, I know that’s probably just a typo, but I’d like to hear more about such a theory anyway.

  6. Eric October 17, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Wow, just wow. Is this our greatest living prose stylist? OK, I no doubt exaggerate, but this was the most fun I’ve had reading a story in a long time. The plot here is nothing special–I guessed the ending in the middle of the first paragraph–but I enjoyed getting there anyway. I love Hadley’s eye for both personal and linguistic detail, and the way the two play off of each other.

    Are there any Hadley fans out there who can suggest the best place to start in reading some of her other work? The only other thing of hers I’ve read was her previous TNY story, “Dido’s Lament”, which was good but not on this level.

  7. William October 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Eric —

    I wrote my ideas of good writing on Oct 9 in the comments to “Sunrise, Sunset”.

    As for “god writing”, you have to go to the bible.

  8. David October 18, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    I was surprised to see in the author interview that the story is supposed to be set in the 1960s. I looked at the story a second time and other than the absence of modern electronic technology and Valerie sending a telegram, nothing I could see in the story seems to even suggest it is not set in the present. In fact, the description of Jamie’s clothes as “hipster”, a term that was not used before the 1990s and really not common until the 2000s, suggests it might be a much more recent setting than the 1960s. But more than this, Hadley says in the interview that she was particularly interested in the 1960s and wanted to tell a story of that era, so I have to wonder what she thinks is distinctive of that decade that is central to the story. If it was her goal to evoke the 1960s, I would have to say she completely failed to do so as I had no reason to think it was not set in the 1990s or even more recently just from reading it. That is, unless you think having a character send a telegram is a big deal. Did I miss something? Is there anything else in the story that tells us when it is supposed to be set?

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