‘The Card Trick’ by Tessa Hadley

The Card Trick by Tessa Hadley, 2003

The magic trick:

Setting up a series of literary device wires for the reader to trip, but never making it feel contrived – i.e. mirroring the card trick of the story

There is so much here in this story. It’s jam-packed.

The story separates into two sections: one set in the 1970s where our protagonist is a teenager, and the other years later when she is an adult coming out of a divorce. There are different ideas that show themselves in each section. Both past and present Ginas visit the writer John Morrison’s estate. And as you’d likely guess, both mention the card trick.

That’s a lot of literary device traps set for the reader. A ton of connections to make. But it never feels contrived. The story flows. The metaphor mechanisms feel like natural parts of the plot. So the reader feels like the victim of Hadley’s own version of the card trick her protagonist uses. Yes, the author is stacking the deck, while we’re not looking, so as to make the unveiling of the individual cards feel like some kind of magic spell at work. But it never feels like a cheat. It only feels like magic.

Which is the whole point of this website, the whole point of short stories.

And that’s quite a trick on Hadley’s part. 

The selection:

Gina looked at her dumbly across the charming room, with its waxed floor slanting quaintly to the window, unable to say how unlikely it seemed to her at this moment that anyone could have ever written anything worth reading in a house like this. She thought of art as a sort of concealed ferocity, like the fox hidden under the Spartan boy’s shirt. It seemed to her that any authentic utterance would be stifled by the loveliness, the serene self-completeness of this room. What could one do here but self-congratulate: write cookery books, perhaps, or nostalgic reminiscences?

At the same time, she was filled with doubt, in case she was deluded, in case it turned out that art was a closed club after all, one that she would never be able to enter, she who had never owned one thing as beautiful as the least object here.

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