‘Shine/Variance’ by Stephen Walsh

This story was shortlisted for The White Review short story prize and in my opinion should have won. The story concerns a father taking his son to buy a Christmas tree while his thoughts are consumed by quarterly sales targets. Narrated in a kind of mechanical office shorthand littered with sales figures that amplifies the father’s state of mind and the pressure he is under, as the story unfolds everything becomes increasingly quantified, categorised, and ranked. The variance measured against expected outcomes or societal expectations. Referring to his own children, the father states: “Of course love but if can be objective for a moment would give them maybe 5 average on looks.” Does the plan to buy “The Tree” go smoothly? Well, as you might expect, not quite. In fact it becomes an ordeal in turn nightmarish, hilarious, but ultimately intensely moving.

First published in The White Review, April 2019, and available to read here. Collected in Shine/Variance, Chatto & Windus 2021