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Just Sweethearts

December 24, 2012

Just Sweethearts, by Harry Stillwell Edwards, is subtitled “a Christmas Love Story,” but it’s not really a Christmas story at all, although it does make a halfhearted stab at the Unity of Christmastimes. It starts with a Christmas Eve meet cute, and ends the following Christmas Eve. I suspect the subtitle was mostly an excuse to publish an edition with a fancy Christmas-themed binding.

Two years ago I spent a day in December at the library and read all the Christmas stories I could get my hands on, plus this. I promptly forgot the title, but I’ve thought of it from time to time over the past couple of years, and when I finally figured out what it was, I reread it to see if I could figure out why it was so memorable, and whether it was as terrible an excuse for a Christmas story as I remembered. And it was definitely the latter, but the former still has me stumped.

The sweethearts of the title are King Dubignon, an architect, and a young woman he knows only as Billee. He falls in love with her at first sight, and thereafter alternates between talking a lot about how she’s his woman and feeling super awkward about talking about how she’s his woman. If King must talk about fate and stuff as much as he does, I like the way Edwards handles it — Billee is plausibly weirded out and then reassured.

The plot, such as it is, has to do with a young girl being rescued from drowning by a boy who kept them both afloat for many hours, and who these kids are, which…well, they are who you think they are. There are only, like, three other characters in the book.

It’s a pretty silly book, really, but there are bits here and there that seem like they’re from a more modern and self-aware sort of book. It’s as if he’s writing in a sort of Henry Sydnor Harrison milieu and then every once in a while you feel almost as if you’re reading Cosmo Hamilton. It’s weird.

I think the weirdness might be why I like Just Sweethearts, though — that and they way King’s career develops. A lot of the book is much too saccharine for me, but not all of it — its inconsistency works in its favor there. I kind of love it when a book’s badness works in its favor, and I think that’s what’s happening here. The shifts in tone and loose ends make me feel like it’s a puzzle, and I’m probably going to end up rereading Just Sweethearts again in an effort to solve it.

Maybe next Christmas.

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