The Moment of Tenderness

Image of The Moment of Tenderness
Release Date: 
April 21, 2020
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

This short story collection by Newbery Award-winner Madeleine L’Engle, published posthumously by her granddaughter, is aimed more at L’Engle scholars and devoted fans than recreational readers familiar only with the famous A Wrinkle in Time. The early works collected here differ significantly from L’Engle’s mature works, and need to be taken in the right context to be appreciated. Thus, be sure to read the Introduction first.

In the Introduction, Charlotte Jones Voiklis describes how she came upon a heap of stories among her grandmother’s effects and decided to select and publish them. “Most [were] written in the 1940s and 1950s,” Voiklis says, “when she was first an aspiring playwright, then a promising novelist, and then a despairing writer who struggled to find a publisher.”

Some of the 18 selections are not stories at all, technically. They’re more like vignettes, and a few feel almost like diary entries. Together they form the raw materials that reveal a writer’s growth and transitions. “Many of these earliest stories,” Voiklis explains, “were re-imagined and revised and appeared in other forms in later work.”

This is what gives the collection a scholarly appeal. It will appeal also to anyone interested in the artistic and personal qualities that drive a writer’s lifetime output, especially as these pertain to the very complex, very intelligent, very gifted Madeleine L’Engle.

The collection likely won’t appeal to readers seeking structured stories with happy endings. Only three of the 18 close on an upbeat note. The rest are dark and often depressing, dealing repeatedly with isolation, alienation, heartbreak, hardship, and loss. A line from the story “Summer Camp” captures the tone of the collection: “It’s good to have something to cry about sometimes. That’s how you grow.”

Regardless, the stories contain something for everyone in terms of genre. They range from contemporary (for the time they were written) to dystopian science fiction and paranormal involving ghosts. Most feature young girls or women, though some have male protagonists. Settings follow Madeleine’s path through life, and you can sense her probing her way through reality’s vicissitudes and finding her writerly voice. Sometimes it’s almost embarrassing to read a story, because it’s so intimately emotional.

But that’s the quality which ultimately stayed with her work and led to her achievements. Each of her many books and stories is worth reading because she put so much heart, soul, adventure, misadventure, faith, fear, imagination, and wisdom into them. Her granddaughter’s contributions—the biography Becoming Madeleine and now this collection—round out the portrait of a great writer who will prove to be historically important in literature.

Just be sure to know where your own head is at before tackling this collection. Starting with it might put you off reading L’Engle’s other, excellent material, whereas if you’re familiar with where she went later on, you’ll be more open to and understanding of where she came from.