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28 September 2004

Skipping Grisham

I stopped at the library last night. (Good God, here I go again.) I was looking for Elizabeth Peters’ Guardian of the Horizon and ended up with four books. The other three were Christmas books. One of them was one I’d wanted to read for a while: John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas.

Brief boring notes of exposition:

I’ve never read John Grisham. Even though I watched Perry Mason religiously as a kid, a book involving law has all the appeal of curdled milk. I have no interest in reading about it.

If you hadn’t gathered from my “Holiday Harbour” blog and my Christmas web page, I love Christmas. I like the decorations, the music, the entire idea. Despite all that, I don’t relish the overspending and maniac fanaticism that cames at the Christmas season. Fun and exciting is one thing, desperation and bankruptcy is another.

Which is why the idea of Grisham’s book sounded so appealling.

[Warning! Major spoilers ahoy!]

Luther and Nora Krank (I should have guessed what the ending would be when I saw that surname) have just seen off their 23-year-old daughter Blair, leaving for two years in Peru with the Peace Corps, her first Christmas away from home. It’s Thanksgiving weekend and a grumpy Luther notices the already burgeoning Christmas madness--and decides he’s sick of it. He retreats to his calculator and realizes he spent $6,100 on Christmas the previous year and neither he nor his wife were satisfied. It was hectic, no fun, they got and gave useless presents, etc.

Time for another personal interjection: I collect Christmas books. Not Christmas books with crafts or recipes, but books about Christmas itself. Several of them, like Unplug the Christmas Machine, are about simplifying Christmas, since I dislike the furor that goes on during the holiday season. So although Luther isn’t the world’s most likeable character, I was completely in sympathy with him and what he decides to do next: he convinces his wife, also weary of Yuletide shenanigans, to go on a cruise for the holidays, leaving Christmas Day.

It’s not like it’s a new idea; many folks do it. But the Kranks go one step further than some might: they’re not going to decorate, or throw their usual party, or buy a tree, etc. They will forgo all the trimmings of the holiday except their charitable contributions, which they plan to make at other times of the year. Great. Not what I would do, but I understood perfectly.

Unhappily, most of the Kranks’ friends don’t. Oh, a few of them are envious of the pair not having social obligations or unwanted relatives coming over, but most of them are downright indignant. Their bafflingly selfish attitude is “how dare you not have Christmas with all the trimmings?”

The worst are the Kranks’ "neighbors." The couple live on a street that always takes place in a neighborhood decorating contest. This includes every house having a big plastic Frosty the Snowman on the roof. When the neighbors find out the Kranks won’t be decorating, they are nearly apoplectic with rage. Even the neighborhood police, firefighters, and Boy Scouts collecting for charity treat the Kranks like they’re...well, some sort of cranks, even though Luther assures them he will give to their spring and summer charities. The printer who usually does Nora Krank’s Christmas cards and party invitations is downright indignant when the Kranks won’t even tell him why they’re not ordering cards and invitations (as if it were any of his business).

The neighbors, however, go over the top. They harass the Kranks with whispers and gossip, and serenade them with loud Christmas carols under their windows every night. Even the newspapers get into the act, publishing a picture of the Kranks’ undecorated house as if it’s some type of hideous unknown crime.

Well, Linda, you say, that’s the point of the book, isn’t it? Non-Christians, athiests, and others who don’t celebrate Christmas are bombarded with this stuff from before Halloween onward. This is just that syndrome taken to absurdity.

And had the book left it at that, it might have been fine.

But remember, our name is “Krank” here, and we must see the error of our ways. So while I was hoping desperately that Luther and Nora would eventually get away from this boorish herd of obnoxious revelers, it doesn’t happen. In fact, since the entire book has a television sitcom air about it, the predictable thing happens on December 23: daughter Blair calls. She’s not only coming home for Christmas, but she’s engaged for God’s sake to a Peruvian doctor named Enrique who’s always wanted to see a real American Christmas with the tree, the feast, the decorations on the roof.

Were these real adults with backbone Luther and Nora would have told Blair the truth. But no, in true TV sitcom fashion Nora, who was a little reserved about the “skipping Christmas” gig at the beginning but then warmed to it, does a “complete 180” to her husband, decides they will not go on the cruise and sends Luther into a frantic search for food, party guests and decorations before Blair and Enrique arrive on Christmas Eve. A requisite amount of slapstick occurs, including Luther’s foray on the roof to mount the plastic Frosty, to which the obnoxious neighbors look on with glee.

And then they find out why Luther and Nora are doing all this, immediately become sweet and kind again, and help the Kranks get Christmas together.

At the end, Luther gives the cruise tickets to a neighbor and his terminally ill wife.

Oh, please. I’ve gone through 45 years of loving Christmas stories with sappy endings, but this one just made me want to throw the book against the wall. As annoying as Luther Krank is, the idea of him having to be grateful to all these insensitive, malcontented morons makes me positively ill. If I were the Kranks, I’d put that house on the market posthaste--they seem to have the cash to do so--and go live somewhere else. But I’m sure that wouldn’t suit Nora Krank, who just up and repudiates her husband after agreeing with him for most of the book. She probably now thinks all these people are wonderful. Me, I think they deserve to have their cars keyed and eggs tossed at their windows.

The only thing I did like about the sappy ending was Luther giving away the tickets. Yeah, it was a cliché, but it was the only really nice thing anyone does for anyone in this book. And as someone who has known people who were terminally ill with cancer, it’s just a Good Thing all around.

As for Skipping Christmas, you can skip it across a pond for all I care.

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