Book Review: "The Moment of Tenderness"

Knowing I am fond of Madeleine L'Engle's writing, a local librarian suggested this book to me. It is a collection of her short stories, most of them written in the 1940s and 1950s, prior to the publication of "A Wrinkle in Time," the book that really jump-started her writing career.

I don't always read the introduction to a book, but I read this one and am glad I did. It explained the biographical nature that is connected to some of these stories. Madeleine had a lonely childhood, I learned, and struggled as an actress and a writer before "A Wrinkle in Time" was published. She experienced isolation and rejection in her young adult years. Her experiences are reflected in some of the short stories.

I remember reading "The Arm of the Starfish" when I was in grade school. I loved it, although parts of it scared me a little. I have since read at least four other books of hers, possibly more; I'm old enough to forget which books I read 10-40 years ago. I enjoyed her sci-fi/fantasy/adventure themes in those books, and assumed this collection of short stories would be more of the same.

Wrong! Only one of them is a science fiction story. The others include themes of horror, drama, realism, and human nature, to name a few. There's a story about a girl who can't seem to to fit in at summer camp, and another one about a girl who can't seem to fit in at her boarding school. There's a story about a family trying to get by in Germany during World War II. In other stories we find young love gone awry, an emotional affair between middle-aged people, and a young child suddenly realizing that strangers are unaware of the details of her life.

The most shocking story involves a man whose American family contacts him at his residence in Europe, asking him to come home and help out. His parents are aging rapidly, and his sister can no longer care for them by herself. She is wearing herself out trying to keep up with everything. I won't tell you what the man does about it, because that would spoil the story for you. I will only say he disappointed me greatly.

Nearly as disturbing as that one is the story about a young woman who is staying at a boarding house, a "residence for young ladies," while studying at a dramatic school. When her brother comes to visit, he finds out his sister has been pretending he is her boyfriend, so the other girls will think she has one. And then he finds out what the residence really is.

Although this book was not what I was expecting, and leaned heavily toward dark and depressing themes, I kept on reading it because it is very well-written. Now that I have finished it, I can honestly recommend it to other readers. I enjoyed the variety of stories, and their shortness. The many themes and genres kept me on my toes. The reader is exposed to many of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature, and lessons can be learned from this.

This book should be available through your local library. I would encourage the reader to check it out and read it.