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The Moment of Tenderness


The Moment of Tenderness

Originally published in 1962, A WRINKLE IN TIME --- the first book in the Time Quintet --- is Madeleine L’Engle’s best-known, but far from only, work of literature. In fact, L’Engle, who passed away in 2007, was a prolific author who penned over 20 works of fiction and nonfiction. When she died, she left behind many manuscripts and drafts among her papers. Her granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, has edited and compiled some of them into a compelling and affecting short story collection.

All but one of these 18 stories were composed before A WRINKLE IN TIME. Most were written in the 1940s and ’50s for her college writing classes and as she was pursuing a career in theater. Some were later incorporated into novels, but all stand successfully alone as insightful and perceptive slices of emotional life. The characters generally grow older, though not always more mature, as the collection moves forward. The stories themselves are arranged in a rough chronological order of when they were written, which gives the book an interesting sweep and scope.

"THE MOMENT OF TENDERNESS is a wonderful collection. The stories...are finely crafted and have a modernist attention to the complexity and allusive nature of human feelings coupled with a postmodern detachment."

THE MOMENT OF TENDERNESS opens with “The Birthday,” and L’Engle drops readers right into the evening before a little girl’s birthday. Cecily is excited to spend the next day celebrating with her parents, but two events, one interior and one exterior, shatter her plans. First, she begins to question her reality --- who she is as separate from others and her place in the world. These thoughts are frightening and powerful. However, when Cecily wakes up the next morning, her mother is gone, admitted to the hospital for issues she cannot comprehend. By the time Cecily goes to bed that night, she has learned to find a strength in her individuality and to rely on herself.

In both “The Mountains Shall Stand Forever” and “Summer Camp,” young girls are far from home and victims of bullying. They face loneliness and both physical and emotional dislocation. Selina, the protagonist of “White in the Moon the Long Road Lies,” is leaving home and leaving behind a romantic attachment. In “Madame, Or…” L’Engle introduces siblings Walter and Nancy Burton as Walter comes to visit his sister at the ambiguous and dubious Madame Septmoncel’s Residence for Young Women. In other stories, characters attend theater auditions or travel with theater companies, their present circumstances and future prospects in the hands of careless others. Menace abounds for all of them.

As L’Engle’s characters age, they confront continued fears and threats as they seek connection. In the titular story, Stella Purvis is a wife and mother who develops an attachment to her doctor. Residents in the small insular communities struggle with their responses to unwelcome newcomers who “actively affect the climate of the town,” in pieces like “The Foreigners.”

And there are the to-be-expected strange and fanciful tales as well. “Poor Little Saturday” is a delightful story about a “witch woman” living in an abandoned house in southern Georgia and her relationship with the boy who comes into the house. There he befriends a teenage girl, the witch and their assortment of pets. This is a stand-out piece: it examines many of the same themes as others in the book, but the setting and characters are quite unique and unforgettable.

THE MOMENT OF TENDERNESS is a wonderful collection. The stories, even those that represent L’Engle’s early career, are finely crafted and have a modernist attention to the complexity and allusive nature of human feelings coupled with a postmodern detachment. Many are sorrowful and aching, even tragic. All are provocative and remarkable.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 24, 2020

The Moment of Tenderness
by Madeleine L'Engle

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538717832
  • ISBN-13: 9781538717837