It seems to me that Mavis Gallant must have spent an inordinate amount of time on terraces. As places that seem associated with a view, this seems appropriate for a writer with a penchant for observation and acuity.
But even while terraces seem related to looking outward – especially with the Alps nearby, as settings for the stories Mavis Gallant tells, it feels as though the lens has been turned around.
So that rather than full-sized and admiring human beings looking outwards, admiring the scenery, we readers feel larger-than-life, our attentions turned toward this confined space, like a stage, where we can glimpse a few moments in the lives of strangers.
Here, as with “Jeux d’Ete” and “The Circus”, readers are afforded the opportunity to set that stage in advance. We know that, on the Sunday after Christmas, the air will be filled with the strange quiet that lingers after a disappointment. Because Christmas is never everything that one hoped for. Not so peaceful, not so rewarding.
But here, the mother and son whom readers observe, are carrying much heavier burdens of disappointment – the sort which span a lifetime rather than a season. And if we missed the titular cue for despondency, straight away we see a darkening valley:
“At a quarter to four the sun moved behind a mountain. The valley below us went dark, as if an enormous bird had just spread its wings. For a moment I understood what my mother means when she complains I give her the feeling of being outside life.”
The darkest part of this passage, however, is not the shadow, but the present-tense of the mother’s complaint: her son gives her the feeling of “being outside life” and she shares this with him directly.
Other moments in this story unfold in the past (not many, comparatively) but the mother’s disappointment is fresh. It’s ongoing and continues to unfold on the terrace and beyond. (One cannot help but think of Mavis Gallant’s personal disappointments revolving around her relationship with her mother – both parents, really, but seemingly more lastingly with her mother, at least according to interviews.)