Thomas Tryon – Lady (1974)
Author: Thomas Tryon
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Pequot Landing is a place of small-town peace and prejudice, a fine place for children to grow with dreams of future escape. Adelaide Harleigh, elegant widow of an heir to fortune, lives quietly with her servants Jesse and Elthea in a grand house on the Green. Enigmatic but not aloof, she’s a gracious presence in her Connecticut community — at least, when not homebound during her “retirements.” What truly haunts the woman called “Lady?”
Starting in the era of the Great Depression, Thomas Tryon’s novel observes Lady through the eyes of a young admirer. The narrator’s devoted friendship with Lady develops throughout his childhood, adolescence, and service in World War II. Despite being marketed as a ghost story, Lady’s drama keeps to the realm of human mysteries and guilt. What the book does share with Tryon’s more horror-inclined books such as The Other and Harvest Home is its imagined New England setting. Lady sweeps the reader into this world with lovely description, with understandings forming and shattering as the seasons unfurl.
Lady herself is both entrancing enough for the narrator’s infatuation and human enough to act as a breathing being. What I noticed while reading this and The Other is how Tryon writes a variety of female characters with their own temperaments and goals and inner lives. Most of the widows and older unmarried women continue onward with fulfilling lives. Solitude is not loneliness, as the novel takes time to explain.
Even what sounds like trite advice or observations comes across as true to what the characters would say in each particular instance. These characters have their own limited perspectives, even when commenting on others’ limited perspectives, and their expectations and biases fuel the plot. While the long denouement disappoints in how Lady’s story is more told than shown, it fits another theme of the novel: gathering the truth from pieces dropped over the years. The narrator recounts almost with two voices: the mature voice looking back from the future, and the developing voice experiencing everything as it happens. Nostalgia and examination filter through each other, just as people grasp and evade their past.
The ebook re-release of the novel is available through Open Road Media here.