A George R. R. Martin riff on “A Christmas Carol”, “Portraits of His Children” is a twisted short story in the vein of magical realism, that also feels like a curious commentary and criticism by Martin on his own writing and career.
The story features a man – prolific author, terrible father – haunted by portraits of the protagonists of his novels come to life, who each illustrate a moral lesson for him to learn in much the same way the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future did for Ebenezer Scrooge. This is a much darker, more twisted story than Scrooge’s, however, with truly depressing family situations and sexual violence a focal point. The metacommentary of the story on Martin himself was the most fascinating aspect of the tale to me. Martin has been criticised for the sexual violence (amongst other things) in his own work. In my reviews for many of his stories, I’ve noted how Martin seems to be drawing from emotional wells born of his own life experiences, using fictional characters and situations as stand-ins for parts of his past. “Portraits of His Children” criticises both such impulses of a writer. Martin is not a monster like the protagonist of this story, but it was interesting to see something of a meditation on how justifiable such writerly impulses can be.
I wish the story engaged with those aspects more. Alas, they never get explored much beyond the superficial, at least in my reading – it’s more than possible there’s hidden depths or nuance here that I missed. It’s an interesting story, but it never gelled perfectly for me, and I feel like there was an unfortunate amount of lost potential between the fascinating premise and the story it ended up in. I give it three portraits, and a plate of runny eggs.