When the Yule Log Burns

December 25, 2018

So, uh, hey. It’s been a while.

I’m really sorry for not posting for so long. I’m really sorry for missing Captain Blood Day. I tried to get something together but I just couldn’t do it. But I didn’t want to let Christmas pass without at least one Christmas story. And I’ve only got one, but, as luck would have it, the one story I read was kind of two.

Leona Dalrymple is pretty good at Christmas stories. Jimsy: The Christmas Kid and In The Heart of the Christmas Pines are exactly what Christmas stories should be. When the Yule Log Burns is…also many things a Christmas story should be, and I’m tempted to say that it’s my own fault I didn’t love it. Maybe I would too anxious to get something read and reviewed. Maybe I’ve read too many of these things before. And, you know, I like a predictable Christmas story. But this one (these ones) left me kind of bored.

It really is two separate stories. In the first section, country doctor John Leslie and his wife, Ellen, are upset because none of their grown-up children are going to be home for Christmas. Except that the Doctor gets mad and telegraphs them all, and they do show up. It’s a very similar setup to On Christmas Day in the Morning, but less satisfying, because there’s no actual conflict, just some things that kind of look like it. The kids aren’t coming home, and then they are. The Doctor’s disabled patient Roger Hildreth and his sister Madge are having a hard time, but you only see it in the context of knowing the Doctor is about to whisk them away and give them a good time, and before you’ve even thought about them going home again, they’ve been adopted. The Leslies’ wild youngest son Ralph tells his father that he’s been fired for operating on a patient while drunk, but it’s just a preface to him announcing that he’s going to come home and take over the Doctor’s practice, so…everything’s fine? It’s weird.

The second half is an almost completely unrelated rehash of Jimsy. It’s one year later. Ralph and Madge are off on their honeymoon, Roger is no longer disabled, and the rest of the Leslies, despite having enthused about country Christmases the year before, are once again not planning on showing up. This time the Leslies deal by inviting a bunch of boys from the slums to do Christmas with them, but again, there’s no confict–or rather, what there is doesn’t work. The Leslies are happy to have the kids there and the kids are mostly happy to be there, although no one in this half of the story ever really convinced me that they were having fun. Two of the kids are hiding things, but one of them is very obvious, and kind of doesn’t matter, and the other one is sort of out of the blue and…also doesn’t matter.

All the elements are here, but they didn’t make me feel anything, and the more I think about that, the more I want to blame Leona Dalrymple and not myself. Also, every other sentence was about 300%  too long. I will leave you with one:

It was well that the Doctor had a way with boys, for there was a problem to be solved here with infinite tact—a problem of protuberant eyes and paralyzing self-consciousness, of unnatural silences and then unexpected attempts at speech that died in painful rasps and gurgles, of stubbing toes and nudging elbows, of a centipedal supply of arms and legs that interfered with abortive and conscience-stricken attempts at courtesy, and above all an interest in the weave of the carpet that was at once a mania and an epidemic—but by the time supper was well under way, things, in the language of Roger, had begun to hum, and by the time the Doctor had mastered the identities of his guests, from Jim, the shy, sullen boy who would not meet his eyes, to Mike’s little brother, Muggs, who consumed prodigious quantities of everything in staring silence, and looked something like a girl save for a tardily-cast-off suit of Mike’s, somewhat oceanic in flow and fit, the hum had become celebrative and distinctly a thing of Christmas.


  1. …that is one heck of a sentence, there. Wow. Well. Thanks for sharing! :D

    • I hope all has been well with you.

      Sorry these were disappointing – better luck in the new year!


    • I didn’t even have to go looking. I thought, “oh, I should add one of those really long sentences,” and it was right there on the page I was on. So it’s possible that there are longer sentences.

      • Sentences like that remind me of Irene Iddlesleigh.

        …I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.

        • I had to look that up, and now I’m tentatively excited to read it.

  2. Sorry that the book wasn’t that great, but glad to see you back!

    • Thanks!

  3. Glad to hear you’re still reading! Merry Christmas and happy new year

    • Merry Christmas and happy new year to you, too!

  4. I was also digging through the back catalogue of Leona Dalrymple this year, and also read this, but I went into it while down with a cold, with low expectations and a desire for minimal stress, so I was reasonably happy with it. (actually, I was quite pleased that instead of as per “Christmas Day in the Morning”, they recognize that having All The Kids There Every Year is kind of selfish/not-feasible given the existence of other relatives and the distances necessary, etc., and hence take an alternate route to the desired boisterous Christmas instead of pining.)

    But yes, it is… thin? And not very motivated. I do wish the second half really showed the crew enjoying themselves. But still: a basically harmless Christmas book, which was more or less what I wanted that day, so it gets points from me for that. (but not for Literary Merit so much)

    (Incidentally, Traumeri, by the same author, appears to be a close cousin of Diane of the Green Van, but set in Europe and not nearly as migratory. But it has stacks of implausibility and romance and ludicrousness and detective-ing, although somewhat less whimsy, but also no physical torture and no possible-near-incest, so there is that.)

    • I hear you on the reasonable alternate Christmas plans thing, but, like…couldn’t they have just worked out a rotation where at least one kid was home every year?

      It was for sure harmless, but I guess what I really want from a Christmas story is feelings? And this felt very by-the-numbers.

      Traumerei sounds like fun, and I do have a fair amount of goodwill towards Leona Dalrymple. Maybe I’ll check it out.

      • The thing is that in basically all books from this period wherein one kid is absent from the otherwise-complete family group, there’s a lot of focus on that one kid who is missing (less of a thing when a couple of kids are missing, though, especially if they’re “in rotation”). Therefore, I think the “we don’t have *any* of our kids home for Christmas!” lament is, potentially, partly a smoke screen to sound more reasonable about their wishes (vs. the desire to have *all* their kids together and interacting happily and replicating former years for the full period of the Christmas holidays).

        Okay, also, as a member of a family where one side of the family is about Boisterous Celebration With Abundant Noise, there’s also a *ton* of pressure to play up adequately, so basically you do not want to have the bulk of that expectation on you as you try to keep all the traditional plates spinning so that there is not disappointment in their eyes. It is a *pain* to try to play the part of an Enthusiastic Crowd (especially for an introvert). This family sounds healthier than that, but still.

        I do think that the most sane thing to do in this sort of situation is to make as many people in the family as happy as reasonably possible. Probably, when you have this many kids, this would mean having some sort of rotation where two (different) kids (or one kid plus that kid’s children, or some other mix of relatives; whatever adds up to a reasonable distribution for a house party?) come home each Christmas to celebrate, and then have a Full Reunion (but scheduled in advance by those traveling, for goodness’ sake!) once every five or ten years or something. Or to do as some families do and have Alternative Christmas/Thanksgiving, where it’s held a week apart from the scheduled holiday so that odds of attendance get better at least for reasonably-local family members who also have in-laws to visit.

        I am not 100% sure I can really recommend Traumeri (as I’m not 100% sure I would recommend Diane of the Green Van!), but it is *fascinating* comparing the rest of Leona Dalrymple’s available work to those two not-quite-dime-novels-but-we’re-definitely-edging-on-that-territory books. There are parts of Traumeri that are a hoot, though, so there is that. But I do not think I laughed out loud as much as I did while reading Diane of the Green Van – the Sonnet to a Mosquito or whatever it was, and the casual dropping of Herodotus-in-the-original, both definitely got me. :-) I think Traumeri is slightly more clever of solution and slightly less coincidence-driven, though (or rather, most “coincidences” are engineered by characters rather than actual coincidences, once you get past the first [admittedly quite… generous] batch of coincidences that set up the situation).

        • You’ve put a lot more thought into this than Leona Dalrymple ever did.

          The humor in Diane of the Green Van is kind of its saving grace, isn’t it? But I am kind of interested to see how Dalrymple progressed as a writer. I guess I’m not going to put this on the short to-read list, but I’ll keep it in mind.

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