The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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December 23, 2012

Christmas time in the city

... Nothing on the first floor was disturbed. There was even a silver spoon and a small silver tray on the dining-room sideboard. Looking at each other they half managed to believe that everything was all right... But the house felt quiet, not right somehow, not the way it usually felt, and they saw why when they got to the top of the first flight of stairs.

This happens a lot. As much as I fell in love with William Maxwell's voice {and his correspondent's} through his letters, when I read them, I still had not read anything else that he had written.  So seeing one of his short stories as the Library of America Story of the Week {learning about that was another gift from JoAnn}, and it being the Christmas story on top of that, reading 'The Lily-White Boys' this morning was another little gift.

The title of the story comes from a carol that is sung at the Follansbees' Christmas party {and, most likely, from two characters who appear late in the story, driving their car to Connecticut}.  It's the kind of party where the hostess shares her recipe for punch, the candles on the tree are real, and the husband stands by with a bucket of water. When Dan and Celia Coleman walk home from the party, 'two blocks north on Park and then east' -- their walk is only a paragraph long, but it's a perfect evocation of New York -- they find their own 'Venetian red' front door open, and their house ransacked.

It's the lovely moment that happens near the end, confirmed by a conversation 'in the middle of the night' by 'the material witnesses to the breaking and entering,' that gives this story its 'weary grace'  (a phrase that I'm borrowing from another book I've been reading today).  The story is short {six pages long} and if you'd like to, you can read it here

The introduction tells us that the story was written late in William Maxwell's life, and that 'the story was never [his] favorite form.'  But I'm glad he wrote them, and glad to spend another few minutes in his company.


JoAnn said...

So glad you are enjoying the Library of America stories! I saved this morning's William Maxwell story to read later... hopefully this evening. I have yet to read his novels. What am I waiting for??

Vintage Reading said...

Love a good short story at Christmas, adding the author to tbr. Just googled 'Venetian red' to see what shade it was - gotta thing about red!

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