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In Brando Skyhorse's dystopian social satire "My Name Is Iris" (Simon & Schuster, a division of Paramount Global), the latest novel from the award-winning author of "The Madonnas of Echo Park," a Mexican-American woman faces anti-immigrant stigma through the proliferation of Silicon Valley technology, hate-fueled violence, and a mysterious wall growing out of the ground in her front yard.
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After the funeral, the two little girls, aged nine and seven, accompanied their grief-stricken mother home. Naturally they were grief-stricken also; but then again, they hadn't known their father very well, and hadn't enormously liked him. He was an airline pilot, and they'd preferred it when he was away working; being alert little girls, they'd picked up intimations that he preferred it too. This was in the nineteen-seventies, when air travel was still supposed to be glamorous. Philip Lyons had flown 747s across the Atlantic for BOAC, until he died of a heart attack – luckily not while he was in the air but on the ground, prosaically eating breakfast in a New York hotel room. The airline had flown him home free of charge.
All the girls' concentration was on their mother, Marlene, who couldn't cope. Throughout the funeral service she didn't even cry; she was numb, huddled in her black Persian-lamb coat, petite and soft and pretty in dark glasses, with muzzy liquorice-brown hair and red Sugar Date lipstick. Her daughters suspected that she had a very unclear idea of what was going on. It was January, and a patchy sprinkling of snow lay over the stone-cold ground and the graves, in a bleak impersonal cemetery in the Thames Valley. Marlene had apparently never been to a funeral before; the girls hadn't either, but they picked things up quickly. They had known already from television, for instance, that their mother ought to wear dark glasses to the graveside, and they'd hunted for sunglasses in the chest of drawers in her bedroom: which was suddenly their terrain now, liberated from the possibility of their father's arriving home ever again. Lulu had bounced on the peach candlewick bedspread while Charlotte went through the drawers. During the various fascinating stages of the funeral ceremony, the girls were aware of their mother peering surreptitiously around, unable to break with her old habit of expecting Philip to arrive, to get her out of this. –Your father will be here soon, she used to warn them, vaguely and helplessly, when they were running riot, screaming and hurtling around the bungalow in some game or other.
The reception after the funeral was to be at their nanna's place, Philip's mother's. Charlotte could read the desperate pleading in Marlene's eyes, fixed on her now, from behind the dark lenses. –Oh no, I can't, Marlene said to her older daughter quickly, furtively. – I can't meet all those people.
Excerpt from "After the Funeral and Other Stories" by Tessa Hadley, copyright 2023 by Tessa Hadley. Published by Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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