The Sunday After Christmas by Mavis Gallant, 1967
The magic trick:
Showing the son to be unreliable through his words, but painting the mother as the unreliable one when it comes to actions
This is likely one of the odder Christmas stories you’ll read this or any holiday season. Our narrator seems fairly normal, even perceptive. Then he starts saying things like “I could hear her thinking.” It is in these moments that we realize this narrator is special. Harold is perceptive, it’s true. He is too perceptive. He imagines entire conversations. But the story is more than simply an exercise in unreliable narration, because, in fact, it is the mother’s actions (albeit, as told through Harold’s words) that are rejected. She is the one, not Harold, who shows desperation and unreliability in her actions. The whole thing is unsettling and off-kilter. And that’s quite a trick on Gallant’s part.
“Well, that’s very strong of you,” said my mother. “Isn’t that so, Harold? But are you really leaving so soon? Can’t you stay until after New Year’s Eve? You may never be here again.”
I could hear her thinking, Don’t go. Stay. Are two or three days so much to give me? You gave your mother a year.
I love my mother and I don’t care two pins about you, I heard the girl answer.
She said, “No, I’ve got to get back.”
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