I didn’t love A Reversible Santa Claus, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I can’t think of anything I wanted from it that I didn’t get, anyway.
It’s by Meredith Nicholson, author of the excellent House of a Thousand Candles, and it’s got a pretty good setup: a former thief known as Billy the Hopper — for the ease with which he’s always made his escapes — has retired with one last haul and settled down on a chicken farm with his wife, Mary, and another former thief, Humpy. Mary used to be a pickpocket. Humpy used to raise chickens in jail, so he’s got valuable experience. All three of them are glad to be living a quiet life within the law, but one day the Hopper sees a wallet sticking out of someone’s jacket on the train and is unable to resist pocketing it. This sets in motion a chain of events that results in the Hopper accidentally kidnapping a toddler.
From the point when the Hopper steals the wallet, through the accidental kidnapping and well into the middle of the story, he seems set on making things worse for himself and it’s a little uncomfortable to read. It doesn’t help that Mary and Humpy are so hostile to him. Things shift into a smoother gear when he tries to return the kidnapped child and ends up being sent on a supremely ridiculous quest. Everything goes a little more slapstick, and a lot more easily, from that point on — maybe too much so, as the various difficulties the Hopper still faces turn out to be implausibly easy to deal with. Still, it’s reassuring after the nerve-wracking beginning, so I didn’t really mind.
That’s the case with most of The Reversible Santa Claus‘ imperfections: there are things wrong with it, I guess; they just don’t seem like problems. This story has all the Christmas story things — a cute kid, a slightly beleaguered young couple, a reformed criminal, two vaguely Scrooge-like individuals, and themes of forgiveness and people being totally ridiculous. And when you take a closer look, none of it makes much sense, but the whole thing proceeds so smoothly and pleasantly that it’s hard to care. I don’t think this is going to be anyone’s favorite Christmas story, because Nicholson doesn’t try too hard with the emotional stuff — probably for the best — but it’s more than adequate.