Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

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The Little House

December 14, 2015

It’s that Christmas story time of year again. Well, sort of. I’m writing this in early November. I’m allowing myself a slow start.

My previous acquaintance with Coningsby Dawson comes from The Kingdom Round the Corner, which I liked a lot of things about without actually liking. The Little House is similarly almost-good, and similarly post-war, and also marginally a Christmas story. And it’s narrated by a house, which is sort of important at the beginning, forgettable through most of the middle, and briefly relevant again at the end. It’s almost cute in the same was Dawson is almost good. You know: there’s a lot of that furniture-having-conversations-after-midnight stuff. I want to like it, but I have limited patience.

The story begins during an air raid shortly before Christmas. The titular house is untenanted, and its caretaker has left the front door open in her haste to find a shelter. Meanwhile, a young widow — known to the house as “the little lady” — is passing through the square in which the house stands with her two small children, Robbie and Joan. They see the open door and take shelter, and so, a few minutes later, does an American soldier on his way to the front. They strike up a sort of friendship, but part without learning each other’s names.

A year later (the Unity of Christmastimes!) the soldier returns to the house, minus an arm, and finds that the little lady and her children live there now. They introduce themselves a little more formally, and take up their friendship where they left off before. He takes the kids to the zoo. He takes the little lady to the theater.It;s pretty obvious where this is going to everyone but the two principals.

She expects him to go home and forget about her. He thinks about whether he’s in love with her and decides that he’s not. So he has to change his mind, and she has to swallow her pride, and the structure of the narrative sort of requires that the house somehow make those things happen, so it does.

I almost really enjoy Coningsby Dawson. He has clever ideas. But his execution leaves me unmoved, and his insistence that a woman isn’t complete without a man to take care of her moves me in probably the opposite direction to what he would wish. This is a small, focused story — just two people, a single setting, a brief span of time and an inevitable conclusion. And if you’re going to do something so simple, you have to do it well. To hold your readers’ attention, if nothing else. But I kept getting distracted by the outside things, the things Dawson didn’t talk about. Like the little lady’s family and narrowing social life, and the soldier’s experience of war.

It’s frustrating when something is almost good. I think I would have really enjoyed this story in the hands of another writer. I think it’s going to take a lot to make me try Dawson again.

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Christmas Stories: A Captured Santa Claus

December 11, 2014

When I was doing my annual selection of Christmas stories the other day, I couldn’t remember why I vaguely disliked Thomas Nelson Page, just that I did. And that’s how I ended up reading a Christmas story about a Confederate soldier and his family. And I guess I’m glad I did.

It’s called A Captured Santa Claus, and it takes place between a Christmas and a Christmas during the Civil War. Major Stafford’s children are disappointed with the homemade presents that are all their mother can afford, but their father, home on a flying visit, promises the younger children that they’ll get what they want next year. For five year old Charlie, that’s a uniform and a toy sword. For his younger sister, Evelyn, it’s a doll with eyes that open and close.

Will Major Stafford be able to buy the gifts? Will he get home to Holly Hill to deliver them? Well, of course he will. But there are complications. By Christmas, Holly Hill is behind the Union lines, and going home without his uniform on could get Major Stafford executed as a spy.

This is basically the story you expect, but there are just enough twists to stop it from being completely predictable. And while Christmas is front and center, the Christmas spirit that goes with it is allowed to function without fanfare.

I did spent most of the story resenting a bunch of children for being Confederates, but, you know, that happens.

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Christmas Stories: Mr. Bingle

December 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. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: The Bachelor’s Christmas

December 13, 2013

So, everyone here likes stories about spinsters getting back a bit of their own, right? “The Bachelor’s Christmas” isn’t that, but thematically it’s a cross between that and Colonel Crockett’s Co-operative Christmas. As you can probably imagine, I’m super into it. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: The Blossoming Rod

December 11, 2013

I realized, as I was looking around for Christmas stories to read this year, that when I think about Christmas stories I’m only thinking about one kind of Christmas story. For me to even read a Christmas story means it’s probably set in the modern day, or, you know, the time period in which it was written. And it’s got to be set in something resembling reality. Like, I’ve enjoyed stories about talking mice, for sure, but if your Christmas story consists of a talking mouse telling a story about how another talking mouse got killed by a cat as a direct result of not believing in Santa Claus, I’m hitting the back button. So it was fitting that I want directly from The Mouse and the Moonbeam to The Blossoming Rod, which is the most prosaic Christmas story I’ve ever read. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: Santa Claus’s Partner

December 9, 2013

So, Thomas Nelson Page was apparently a Lost Cause-er. Gross. I’m glad I didn’t love Santa Claus’s Partner. I mean, it’s fine. It’s a nice, workmanlike Christmas story with no indication that the author was super into slavery. It just doesn’t make me want to read others of Page’s books, which is nice because I wouldn’t want to give Dead Thomas Nelson Page the satisfaction.

Also, while I’m not actually going to spend this review referring to the main character by Benedict Cumberbatch names, well…I want you to know that I could. Because his name is Berryman Livingstone, and if Butterfly Creamsicle is close enough for the internet, then Berryman Livingstone is, too. Read the rest of this entry ?

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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. Read the rest of this entry ?

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