sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

February 25, 2009

into the stacks: 2009.2
posted by soe 3:28 am

You may have noticed: My plan to wrap up reviews of books read in 2008 and begin on those I’ve read so far in 2009 derailed before we got out of the train yard. I still plan on catching up… Here’s hoping it’s sometime soon.

I read many of these stories in December and finished up early last month:

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis

From the jacket: “This enchanting group of eight tales … begins with the title story, ‘Miracle,’ in which an office worker hopes that her handsome colleague will finally notice her at the company Christmas party. But her carefully devised plans go awry when her guardian angel takes it upon himself to show her the true meaning of love…. A treasure to cherish anytime of the year, this collection boldly reimagines the stories of Christmas and serves as a testament to Connie Willis’s unique genius and skill in bringing the extraordinary to life while conveying the power of human compassion and love.”

My take: I’m pretty sure Connie Willis was a recommended author by some of you way back when, so when I discovered a brand new copy of a collection of holiday short stories by her on the freebie cart at work, I snapped it up.

Generally, I’m not a huge sci fi fan. I find it trends too much toward the dystopian, which I find bleak and depressing. But if this collection of Willis’ is any indication of her other work, I may have to seek more out. These stories, which (mostly) took place in modern time where the supernatural (generally) isn’t expected, tended far more toward the hopeful than I had expected.

The book was comprised of eight stories, and I liked five of them. Three just weren’t my speed, rather than being bad. “Cat’s Paw,” a Sherlock Holmesian murder mystery features talking apes and a biotech lab on Christmas Eve. “In Coppelius’s Toyshop” is about a mean fellow who gets a deserved, if dark, punishment for his outlook on life at an FAO Schwartz-like store. And “The Pony” also seemed a little creepy — making Santa seem more like a stalker than a kindly elf.

Luckily, those three were overshadowed by the other pieces. “Adaptation” is about a divorced bookseller whose seasonal colleagues include Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. “Newsletter” takes on a much mocked Christmas tradition. In it, Nan boasts of the month she’d just had, when everyone around her (except a coworker or two) became eerily cheerful — and started wearing hats. “Miracle” is another office drama. At the office, Lauren is pining for some attention from the hunk down the hallway, hoping he’ll finally notice her at the annual Christmas party. In the meantime, at home, she’s being terrorized by a surfer dude guardian angel, sent by her sister, who wants her to toss her pre-printed holiday cards and prewrapped generic gifts and find the joy of the season embodied by her favorite Christmas movie.

The two best stories, though are “Inn” and “Epiphany.” Oddly enough, both are religious stories. In the former, a choir member at a rehearsal for the Christmas Eve service finds herself at odds with the associate minister of her church on the issue of the homeless and the definition of charity. The story follows what happens when she lets in two young drifters.

In “Epiphany,” Mel, a minister, has abandoned his congregation because of a sudden insight that Christ has arrived for the Second Coming and is in need of him. He battles his own doubts, his agnostic best friend’s concern, winter blizzards, and traffic woes, as he heads west on his pilgrimage. His journey is made only more absurd by the unseasonal caravan of carnival trucks he seems to be following. Yet, “Epiphany” is the story that sticks with me the most. That could be because it’s the final story of the collection. Or because its own ending is the most ambiguous of the bunch. But I think it’s because its characters’ quest parallels our own quest for meaning in the modern world.

A great collection. I’ll be keeping this to re-read during future holiday seasons.

Pages: 328

Category: books. There is/are 4 Comments.

I am a HUGE fan of Connie Willis. Though her stuff IS generally bleak. You should look for her Winds of Marble Ach at the library – it’s stories, so if any are too bleak, you can skip them 🙂

I adore _Passage_, though I now just cry nonstop through it.

Comment by Jenn 02.25.09 @ 6:26 am

Jenn, good to know. Too bad this isn’t like her typical work. I really enjoyed it!

Comment by soe 02.25.09 @ 12:09 pm

If you do pick up The Winds of Marble Arch (which I also recommend), trust me and skip “All My Darling Daughters.” This is one of the most creepy and unsettling stories I’ve ever read (and I _like_ dystopian future stories) and really bummed me out. If you walked out of Slumdog Millionaire because it was too upsetting DO NOT read this story! Other than that outlier, though, I think you’d really like most of the other stories (and a few in the Christmas collection are also in TWoMA).

As for Willis’ longer stuff, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Bellwether are both fun and light. Doomsday Book and Passages are also very good (in fact, a law professor friend just emailed me last week raving about Doomsday and asking me if I had read it).

Comment by Shani 02.25.09 @ 1:46 pm

Shani, I appreciate the warning. I’ll hit the library in search of the collection, but will skip the daughters story.

Comment by soe 02.25.09 @ 2:32 pm