Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

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Christmas Stories: On Christmas Day in the Evening

December 23, 2016

Grace S. Richmond wrote a sequel to On Christmas Day in the Morning, and it’s called On Christmas Day in the Evening. It’s pretty religious, but mostly in a cute way. It takes place two years after the events of On Christmas Day in the Morning, and it revolves around the village church, which has been standing empty for several years after a series of disagreements in the congregation.

The Fernald kids, led by Nan, decide to open the church for a one-off Christmas service, hoping to bring the villagers together. They enlist Guy’s brother-in-law, a minister in a fashionable city church, and he in turn enlists a retired minister who hasn’t given a sermon in fifteen years, but knows all about the local quarrels.

Everything winds up exactly as you’d expect, and even the family grouch gets in on the Christmas spirit action, but the story didn’t move me. I think it’s because all of the Fernalds are totally fine, and nothing is at stake. Even the Fernald parents, the only ones who still live in the village, aren’t involved–they’ve stayed out of their neighbors’ quarrels. The characters who are involved serve as country stereotype comic relief, so they don’t help much either.

I think Richmond is trying to bring in exactly the kind of firsthand emotion the story needs when she introduces Elder Blake, but he’s not central enough. She might have done better to give On Christmas Day in the Evening a brand new setting and not bother with the Fernalds at all. I like them, and was glad to encounter them again, but nothing about them is essential to the story.

 

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The House With Sixty Closets

December 22, 2016

I started writing a review of The House With Sixty Closets when I was only about twenty pages in, because I was enjoying it so much. This is not that review. I stopped enjoying it.

Here’s the thing: I loved the first section. The second section is worthwhile. The rest of the book is pretty much a dream sequence, and I don’t deal well with those. But I really do unreservedly recommend the description of the sixty closets and how they came to be, and if you really feel like reading about portraits coming to life and giving out allegorical Christmas presents and throwing a party chiefly attended by closets, you can continue.

The book took on another dimension when I learned that the house with sixty closets was a real house and Frank Samuel Child (the author) lived in it and the girl whose parents would like to fit her with a muzzle was in fact one of his daughters. I think this might make the book worse, because it means that only the truthful bits were enjoyable.

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Christmas Stories: On Christmas Day in the Morning

December 15, 2016

On Christmas Day in the Morning, by Grace S. Richmond, has everything I want in a Christmas story: brevity, nostalgia, just enough sadness to highlight the happiness, and, most importantly, the Unity of Christmastimes.

Guy Fernald, paying his parents a visit one Christmas, is dismayed to find that he’s the only one of the six Fernald kids to show up at all. Edson, Oliver, Carolyn and Nan have families of their own, Ralph lives out West, and Guy himself has spent the bulk of Christmas day with the girl he hopes to marry. His parents are touchingly happy to see him, which only makes Guy feel more guilty, and he promises himself that next Christmas will be different. Fast forward to the following December, when Guy starts enlisting his siblings in his Christmas plan. The plan works out, and so does Guy’s romance, and the whole thing is sweet and satisfying and so heartwarming I cried a little.

There were a couple of dialogues between the parents that struck a slightly false note for me, and, as ever, I wanted more detail—food and presents and Guy convincing his siblings—but I’m not inclined to complain. The story, like the plan, is carried along by Guy’s enthusiasm, and everything else falls neatly into place.

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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 ?