Tessa Hadley’s short story collection After the Funeral and Other Stories is about those moments of happenstance that change the trajectory of a life. Across 12 stories, the best-selling British author writes shrewd but compassionate profiles of characters, mostly women, who are at odds with their families, their partners, and even themselves. It’s through coincidence—a literal run-in with an ex-husband, a missed connection with an estranged sister, an unexpected dinner guest—that these unassuming characters are given a chance to reflect on who they have become and who they’d like to be. In “Funny Little Snake,” 24-year-old Valerie finds herself caring for her older husband’s 9-year-old daughter. After forming an unlikely bond with the child, who has long been neglected by her parents, Valerie makes a questionable decision that she hopes will put them both on exciting new paths. Like much of Hadley’s sharp-witted collection, this tale ends ambiguously. Just as it appears our protagonist is on the brink of a breakthrough, we are left to wonder if people really can change. —Shannon Carlin
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