The Christmas Story by Vladimir Nabokov, 1928
The magic trick:
Showing the distance between artistic inspiration and artistic execution
This is one of those “inside baseball” stories about what it’s like to be a writer writing stories. If that meta level kind of thing is a little much for your tastes, I understand. I happen to like it, and even if I didn’t, I think I’d still like this story.
For one, it’s funny. The conversation between the writers is top-notch satire. And more importantly, the meta stuff provides a really neat effect: we see the distance between inspiration and execution. We leave Novodvortsev at the end, presumably setting about to write a pretty awful story. But the nugget of inspiration is there. He thinks about a woman he used to love. Can he turn it into a meaningful story? That is the thing about art. It’s kind of difficult to pull off. This story, by showing both sides of the process, manages to pull it off. And that’s quite a trick on Nabokov’s part.
He skipped back to the Christmas-tree image, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, remembered the parlor of a merchant family’s house, a large volume of articles and poems with gilt-edged pages (a benefit edition for the poor) somehow connected with that house, the Christmas tree in the parlor, the woman he loved in those days, and all of the tree’s lights reflected as a crystal quiver in her wide-open eyes when she plucked a tangerine from a high branch. It had been twenty years ago or more—how certain details stuck in one’s memory….
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