John O’Hara (1905–1970)
From John O’Hara: Stories
During the Jazz Age, Pottsville, Pennsylvania, had “a reputation among the prep-school and Ivy League set as a great party town during the Christmas holidays,” Benjamin and Christina Schwarz wrote a few years back in the Atlantic Monthly. And, as it happens, Christmas weekend 1930 in Pottsville—or Gibbsville in John O’Hara’s fiction—provides the backdrop for Appointment in Samarra, the novel that is considered his masterpiece.
O’Hara revisited Christmastime in Gibbsville three decades later, in the short story “Christmas Poem.” Like his earlier work, the story shows the mastery of American dialogue that made him famous, including a scene of family banter around the dinner table and the preening of a group of college students home for the holidays. Yet unlike much of O’Hara’s other work, this “story of late-adolescent unhappiness and frustration ends on a note of piercing sweetness,” as Charles McGrath noted when he chose it to close the sixty stories and novellas in the new Library of America collection. We present it, in full, as the final Story of the Week selection for 2016, along with our best wishes for the holiday season.