Another Christmas by William Trevor, 1978
The magic trick:
Withholding the conflict until late in the story, but hinting at it enough along the way to build tension
So which would you prefer as your SSMT Christmas gift…
A happy story of questionable quality that delivers holiday cheer?
Or a knockout classic of a story that isn’t maybe so happy?
Surely you selected the latter. Right? Hopefully, that’s the case, because definitely, that’s the gift you’re going to get.
“Another Christmas” is a brilliant short story but not one that leaves you happy.
Good writing should make you happy, though. So Merry Christmas!
There are so many things about this story to admire, it’s hard to isolate one piece of magic. I especially marvel at how well the first half holds the reader’s interest, withholding as it does any conflict until near the end. It’s really a master class of tonal control. There are just enough little nuggets of mystery and potential strain in that first half to build a small feeling of tension.
It’s weird, though. It’s almost like a kind of tension blanket – warm and cozy despite the occasional chill. The first half gives the reader a concise family history, amply demonstrating their successes, their reasons for cheer, and their general state of contentedness. But, as noted, there are stray details that stand out along the way – the woman’s gray streaks of hair, the subtle way the husband agrees to move to London by saying “Sure, if that’s what you want to do,” etc. It’s just enough to make the reader wonder if the bottom is about to fall out on all that contentedness.
Which of course it then does.
And that’s quite a trick on Trevor’s part.
“Mr. Joyce won’t come. I’m not counting him in for Christmas Day.”
“He hasn’t failed us yet, Norah.”
“He won’t come this year.” She smiled through the gloom at him. “I think we’d best warn the children about it.”
“Where would he go if he didn’t come here? Where’d he get his dinner?”
“Lyons used to be open in the old days.”
“He’d never do that.”
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