Welsh novelist and short-story writer Hadley (Sunstroke, 2007, etc.), combines forms in these two subtle, subtly related stories, one about a man whose life goes into free fall as a father and husband, the second about his barely remembered lover who has let idealized memory dangerously impact her life.
Literary critic Paul lives on a Welsh farm with his aristocratic but earthy second wife Elise and their little girls. Shortly after his English working-class mother dies, Paul’s first wife calls to say their daughter Pia has dropped out of college in London and disappeared. Paul secretly tracks down Pia, pregnant and living with a charismatic Polish immigrant and his sexy sister. After a fight with Elise, Paul moves in with Pia and her lover. He returns to Elise contrite, but she has her own secrets and is less than wholehearted in her welcoming. When Pia leaves the Poles and comes to Wales to face her pregnancy more squarely, Paul and Elise begin to find their way back to each other. At some point, passing mention is made of Paul’s brief adultery years earlier with a “girl” in Cardiff; that “girl” is Cora. Cora has recently moved from London back to Cardiff and separated from her much older husband Robert after 12 years of marriage. For years, she and Robert, a well-placed official in the Home Office, tried without success to have a baby until she made the false assumption that Robert was only humoring her. Three years ago, while renovating her parents’ Cardiff house after their deaths, she met Paul on the London train and carried on a passionate affair that Paul ended unaware she was pregnant. When she miscarried, she again misread (and underestimated) Robert, who guessed the baby was not his. Guilt and continuing obsession with Paul keep Cora away from Robert until he goes missing himself. Ultimately, Cora and Robert, like Paul and Elise, must decide what really matters.
Hadley exposes all the pitfalls inherent in relationships, yet miraculously leaves the reader buoyant with hope.