‘The Lily-White Boys’ by William Maxwell

The Lily-White Boys by William Maxwell, 1986

The magic trick:

Picture-perfect portrayal of a Christmas party

Something bad happens in this Christmas story. But there’s no darkness without light, so the story begins with something very good. The opening paragraph describes a picture-perfect Christmas scene. It describes it so well in fact that I’d argue it’s the best thing in the story. The language isn’t fancy or anything. There isn’t a single sentence you can hold up as some model of perfection. But the whole adds up to a really nicely drawn scene. And that’s quite a trick on Maxwell’s part.

The selection:

The Follansbees’ Christmas party was at teatime on Christmas Day, and it was for all ages. Ignoring the fire laws, the big Christmas tree standing between the two front windows in the living room of the Park Avenue apartment had candles on it. When the last one was lit, somebody flipped a light switch, and in the hush that fell over the room the soft yellow candlelight fell on the upturned faces of the children sitting on the floor in a ring around the base of the tree, bringing tears to the eyes of the susceptible.

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