Christmas Stories: Christmas StoriesDecember 14, 2011
It’s not as if I needed another reason to like Mary Jane Holmes, but I’m grateful to her for creating the need for this subject line, which may be my favorite ever.
I wish she had a better grasp of her subject matter, though. I’m not talking about stories like “Adam Floyd,” a straightforward but tense religious romance, or “John Logan,” a fairly cute story of a young couple renovating their house that could do with some more hijinks. I don’t know that I’m even talking about “Red-Bird,” the story of a Floridian bird who, after being captured and caged for a year, returns home to find that her family and friends have moved on with their lives. There was a bit of Christmas in that one, but I don’t know if it’s meant to be a Christmas story — and that’s kind of the problem with the ones that are meant to be Christmas stories. It seems a little bit as if Holmes, when she said “Christmas stories,” meant “stories with Christmas in them,” which isn’t the same thing at all.
By my count, two of the eight stories in the book really succeed as Christmas stories. Then we’ve got the three stories that probably aren’t meant to be about Christmas, and three that maybe sort of are: First there’s “Alice and Adelaide,” a typically Mary Jane Holmesian story of reversals in fortune and a conniving woman. I worry that the moral of this, the longest story in the book, is that trying to attract a man is evil. It made me a little bit uncomfortable. Then there’s a story that claims to be true — “The Christmas Font” — and one that doesn’t, but probably is: “The Passion-Play at Oberammergau”. The latter is a travelogue-y description of (unsurprisingly) the Oberammergau Passion Play, while the former tells the story of a fundraiser put on by some Sunday School kids. I guess it’s because it’s true that Holmes felt the need to shoehorn in some bits about dead kids, but they were the most Christmas story-ish thing about it.
“Ruth and Rena” and “Benny’s Christmas” were genuine, proper Christmas stories, with lots of proper Christmas story tropes, like long lost family members (“Ruth and Rena”), angelic invalids (“Benny’s Christmas”), and starving poor children (both). Not to mention lots of confused childish interpretations of Biblical stories. They both have everything they ought to have, including the Unity of Christmastimes, and “Benny’s Christmas” even made me tear up a bit. I liked “Ruth and Rena” best, though, because a) no dead kids, and b)it was so spectacularly absurd to have three parts of one family living in one house, none of them realizing that they were related to the others.
On the whole, though, Mary Jane Holmes writing about pious people being nice to each other is pretty boring, and not what I want to see from her. You get little tastes of what Holmes is like in her novels — Adelaide’s plotting in “Alice and Adelaide,” long lost family members in “Ruth and Rena” and Anna’s efforts to be less evil/fickle in “Adam Floyd” — but not enough. It’s not just that Holmes doesn’t really do justice to the Christmas story. It’s that she doesn’t do justice to herself.
Oh, and here’s the link: Christmas Stories at Google Books.