Christmas Stories: Mr. BingleDecember 23, 2013
I have pretty low standards for how coherent something has to be before I post it, but the 800 words I wrote on George Barr McCutcheon’s Mr. Bingle last week didn’t meet them. Basically, the problem was that I loved the first few chapters of the book, hated the rest, and allowed my extremely conflicted feelings about George Barr McCutcheon to get all over everything.
Mr. Bingle is only an okay Christmas story, but it begins with an excellent Christmas story. This is how that story goes:
Mr. Bingle and his wife are very poor, very childless and very sweet. They invite kids over every Christmas and Mr. Bingle reads A Christmas Carol aloud. The Bingles are instantly sympathetic. Then there’s Mr. Bingle’s Uncle Joe, who was cast off by his family, lost his fortune on Wall Street, and then spent fifteen years wandering around out west. Now he’s back in New York, and his kids are just as unwilling to associate with him as they were when he left. Tom Bingle, though, imbibes the Christmas spirit all year round, so he takes in Uncle Joe, even though he can’t really handle the financial burden — especially when Joe insists on calling in the same doctor he used to see when he was a millionaire.
Joe makes a few attempts to reconcile with his kids, but they are consistently horrible, offering him pittances in exchange for him leaving town, and promising Mr. Bingle that they’ll pay for the eventual funeral. When Joe does die, it turns out that he’s amassed a huge fortune out west, and he’s left it all to Mr. Bingle. And he’s attached all his kids’ nasty letters so that they won’t be able to dispute the will.
It’s a little vindictive for a Christmas story, but it basically has all the important things. And vindictive can be satisfying, although I suppose it’s inappropriate for a Christmas story (You know what else is inappropriate for a Christmas story? A bunch of kids under the age of 12 being avaricious assholes). If Mr. Bingle had ended there, I would have been raving about it. Instead, Uncle Joe’s death comes maybe a quarter of the way through the book. For most of the rest of it, we’re fifteen years in the future, nobody respects Mr. Bingle, a romance plot has been shoehorned in, and everything is terrible.
That’s as much as I feel I need to say about it, I guess. The end of the book does bring things full circle, and some threads I’d forgotten about from the beginning get picked up again and resolved, but I don’t care. A book I thought was going to bring me around to liking George Barr McCutcheon made me hate him more instead. Next time I won’t get my hopes up.
Anyway: I recommend Mr. Bingle only if you have enough willpower to stop a quarter of the way through.