Publisher: B&B Press, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Where I Got It: Received a PDF file from a publicist
Why I Read It: Since losing my mom last year two days before Christmas, I dread the upcoming holiday season and this collection of stories seemed like it would fit my “anti-holiday” mood
My Rating: 3.5 stars
From the Publisher: Edited by award-winning novelist John Dufresne, Blue Christmas is a collection of 17 original stories written by some of today’s finest contemporary authors exploring a variety of Christmas experiences. These storytellers know the truth: Christmas isn’t idyllic for everyone. In fact, there are scores of people who are not filled with tidings of comfort and joy during the holidays. Blue Christmas tells their stories.
Far from cynical, the themes in Blue Christmas are illuminating and gripping. Blue Christmas is comprised of beautifully written, insightful pieces that explore a time of year when we embrace the love we have found and grieve for the love we have lost, when we hone in on the fleeting moments and stand-out events that have irrevocably changed our lives. There is Jane Hamilton’s piece on the Christmas Eve in which she retraces her father’s deadly fall of off a cliff (“Christmas with the Coroner et al.”), Colin Channer’s gritty account of a young girl being held in a war-torn African camp (“Christmust Fever”), Ann Hood’s story of a woman whose disappointment with her life is big enough to fill a room (“La Vigilia”) and Robert Goolrick’s tale in which a man hungers for a “ghost of a life” he may never have (“The Place I Really Live”). These and the other stories in this collection run the gamut from love to death and from friendship to loneliness, but they all have a certain connective thread: no matter what the circumstances or course of events, these moments in life are universal to us all.
I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas-themed books. They always struck me as too saccharine and contrived. I think we often spend so much time chasing the illusion of what Christmas can be that we rarely experience “the magic of Christmas.” If it doesn’t get lost in the business of the season, then it gets crushed by our outsized expectations. Books, stories and movies that feed into these false expectations annoy me. (Yes … I may have been the original Grinch.) Although having a child brought back some of the innocence and fun of the holidays for me, losing my mom two days before Christmas last year put me right back into a depressed state during the holidays. There is nothing like losing a loved one during the “merriest of seasons” to sour you on the trappings of the holiday.
So when I was offered a review copy of this book, I jumped on it. Part of it was a perverse desire to be “anti-Christmas”—to consciously undercut what I often view as the forced gaiety surrounding the holiday. I also wanted to read stories that would suit my mood around the holidays. Perhaps that is self-defeating, but that was what drew me to the book. And I don’t think I’m alone in the appeal of the book. If you’ve ever felt like you were faking the holiday spirit, this collection of stories will let you revel in that feeling and remind you are not alone.
The stories—as with most short story collections—vary in quality. Some of them will appeal more than others. They vary in tone, style and focus. Some deal directly with Christmas while others are simply set during the holiday season. As you might expect, several stories deal with the disappointments of life—when your dreams for yourself fall fall short of the reality (“A Wild Night And A New Road” by John Dufrense, “The Place I Really Live” by Robert Goolrick, “La Viglia” by Ann Hood ). Others deal with the holiday from the point of view of an “outsider” (“American Sweater” by Diana Abu-Jaber). Some deal with a crossroads in life, when life permanently changes in some fundamental way (“Rocket Man” by Steve Almond, “Anywhere Please” by Lee Martin, “Shut Up, Heart” by Les Standiford. Still others take a rather unexpected and horrifying turn (“I Am Dragon” by Preston Allen).
For me personally, the most affecting story in the book was Jane Hamilton’s “Christmas With The Coroner, Et Al.” When I read the first line: “When I was twenty-two, my father fell off a cliff,” my heart fluttered. As long-time readers might know, this is how my father died. The story was filled with eerie similarities to my own thoughts, feelings and reactions to my father’s death. It was downright spooky in many ways yet, at the same time, oddly comforting. Although I’m not sure if the story is autobiographical (though it seems to be), I immediately felt like writing to the author.
In the end, the book was filled with some gems and some duds. If the premise of the book appeals to you, I’d recommend it. After all, one thing that makes the holidays more bearable is when you know others are having the similar experiences to you.
Readers seeking Christmas-themed stories with a dark and melancholy feel to them
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