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The Wave Twelve Tales of Christmas Chaplin Hales. Chaplin Tom Hobden Fred Abbott. Chaplin Hobden Abbott. Chaplin Max McElligott. The story I have chosen, "My Oedipus Complex", draws on O'Connor's own childhood in Cork with a mother whom he loved deeply, and a father who was mired in alcoholism and debt. Larry is outraged when he is relegated to second place in his mother's attentions by his father's return.

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He cannot understand why she tolerates "this monster. Larry plots to overthrow his father, but the outcome is not what he expects.

I love this story for its narrative voice, its rare combination of warmth and detachment, and its lightness of being. Margaret Drabble The Doll's House, by Katherine Mansfield — I first read "The Doll's House" in one of those big children's annuals that we were given every Christmas, where this classic story took its place among puzzles, Christmas games and jolly messages from Enid Blyton. I can remember the illustrations now, and how fascinated I was by the strange name of Kezia. I found it heartbreaking then and I still do. Every child dreads being the playground victim, the one whose family is an embarrassment or a source of shame, and this story encapsulates that sense of exclusion.

In true Mansfield style, it is at once pathetic in the true sense and slightly sadistic.


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When one is older one can appreciate the economy of the narration, the symbolism of the doll's house, the bloody horror of the leaking jam sandwiches, the subtle relationship of the two sisters and the snobbery of the adults, but it is the unbearable poignancy of that last line, "I seen the little lamp", that continues to haunt. I still have dreams about being shunned in the playground or ignored at a party or finding no place at a dinner table. I think many of us do. Mansfield cruelly nails this vulnerability and makes us suffer all over again.

She was not a kind or gentle writer. This story could be sentimental in the hands of a lesser writer, but she knew better than that. She spares nobody. Anne Enright Fat, by Raymond Carver "Fat" is a great example of how little a short story has to do in order to work — the entry wound is so small, you could say, and the result so deadly. Like many of Raymond Carver's stories, this one seems very simple.

An unnamed waitress tells her friend, Rita, about serving a very fat customer. She likes the guy, despite his girth.

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She likes serving him. Their relationship, though ordinary, and brief, and formal, is quite tender — and, like a love story, it happens in the face of opposition from the rest of the world.

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The small love the waitress feels — this moment of empathy she has for the fat man — becomes briefly amazing later that evening, when she is in bed with her boyfriend, Rudy, and the waitress is left with an uneasy, hopeful intimation of change. I ask often ask students to read "Fat" because it also seems to talk about what a story is. A story is something told — as the waitress tells her friend Rita about the fat man — it is something that really needs to be said. But though we feel its force and resonance, it is often hard to say what a story means.

The most we can say, perhaps, is that a short story is about a moment in life; and that, after this moment, we realise something has changed. Tessa Hadley The Jungle, by Elizabeth Bowen — There are writers you love and admire — quite a lot of those — and then there are a few writers who are unbeknown to them your intimates, your writing family. For me, Elizabeth Bowen has been one of those intimates ever since she first claimed me when I was 14 or I picked her books up in the library because I liked the woodcuts on the covers.

I only half understood what I was reading, first time round — but I responded to the promise her writing gave: that lived experience could be as subtle, complex, richly substantial as her sentences.

That promise is mostly what you read for, at that age. Her novels are marvellous too, but the short story suits her concision, her shapely plotting, and the polished surface of her style, with its oddly made, deliberate sentences. In "The Jungle", about a passionate friendship between teenage girls, how wonderfully freshly she makes us feel the mystery of Elise's personality and her body: like a "compact, thick boy in her black tights", her "wide-open pale grey eyes" with "something alert behind them that wasn't her brain", and her direct look "like a guard".

Slipped out from the bland, reasonable routines of school, in the waste ground they call the jungle, the girls reconnect with the power of death and sex. Philip Pullman The Beauties, by Anton Chekhov — A schoolboy is accompanying his grandfather as they drive in their carriage along a dusty road across the steppe on a sultry August day. They stop for refreshment at the house of an Armenian friend of the grandfather.

The boy, the grandfather and their Ukrainian driver are all struck by the beauty of the Armenian's daughter.

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Some years later, now a student, the boy is on a train that stops for some minutes at a country station. He gets out to stretch his legs, and sees a girl on the platform talking to someone in one of the carriages. She is very beautiful. And that's all. Is that a story? It's about as spare and empty of plot as a story could be; two impressions that barely even amount to anecdote.

Like Waiting for Godot, it's a story in which nothing happens, twice. But it shows how little a short story needs a plot. I like plots, and I work at them a lot; perhaps that's one reason why I've never written a successful short story. The greatness of this one depends on more impalpable things. Chekhov's genius lies in the way he manages to convey with such apparent effortlessness a profound sense of the mystery of beauty, and of the sadness of those who observe and think. The narrator of this apparently inconsequential tale fixes on exactly the right details, from a myriad of possible ones, to strike at the heart.

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It's a masterpiece of minimalism. Helen Simpson The Kitchen Child, by Angela Carter I chose Angela Carter's "The Kitchen Child" because it shows her stories can be sunnier, funnier and altogether more high-spirited than her more minatory, gothic tales might suggest. Stylishly farcical, this story has the speed, tone and buoyancy of an opera by Rossini.

Parlement of Foules – The Twelve Tales of Christmas

The speech patterns of the various characters are sharply ventriloquised in such a way that their words leapfrog conventional dialogue into recitative. Often in her writing, the very form of the story will up and challenge you with its wit, its energy and its talkback; for Paley, voice is always about life. An old man and his daughter are having what is obviously a run-of-the-mill, long-running disagreement. This time it's about the kinds of story the daughter writes. The old man likes a story to take the shape he knows, the classic shape.

This is not the way his daughter writes, and it annoys him.