This is it. The last run up to Christmas. The nights are the longest they have been all year and yet there is a ebullient pinprick of light and joy that is Christmas….
Well, light and joy for some of us, some of the time. There’s actually nothing like the holidays for catapulting you into a depression if you happened to be leaning that way before.
You may have just received your Visa bill and realized that, no, you’re not dreaming, and this – or at least this – is what you owe. You may be missing family members you cherish(ed) and/or stuck spending your holiday with those you have cannily managed to avoid for the last three hundred and sixty four days of the year. And despite the stupendous total on your credit card, your children may spend hours of the day bemoaning the gifts they did and didn’t get.
Or you might be alone altogether, imagining the Christmas bliss of imagined others.
“Imagined” is the operative word. Christmas comes all wrapped up with what we imagine it should be – or is for fortunate others.
To tell the truth about Christmas, in both its cheer and its gloom, B&B Press* has just released Blue Christmas, an anthology of original stories, by seventeen acclaimed authors.** Besides being to varying degrees Christmas-themed, the stories’ only other shared characteristic is, as Amy Canfield noted in her Miami Herald review, that none will likely be adapted for Hallmark holiday tv specials.
Subtitled “Holiday Stories for the Rest of Us,” the anthology includes “Cristmust Fever” by Colin Channer, a tale narrated by a nameless refugee girl somewhere in Africa as she awaits the arrival of santa. This is not the santa familiar to you and me: “[T]hey have been saying for weeks that santa go be coming tonight for all girls who don’t know blood, if you refuse santa man then they go kill you….” The young girl, an orphan who has already been raped several times, makes a desperate bid to save her life in this unforgettable story.
Closer to home, John Dufresne’s “A Wild Night and a New Road” is the story of Roberta (aka Bobbi, Bobbie Jo, Ro, Rob, Bob, Bertie, Robbie) a woman who believes that the worst part of her life is her family’s “exquisite indifference.” But the author’s carefully revealed facts lead us to the inescapable conclusion that this woman’s life is actually far more wretched – and terrifying – than she will ever admit.
I was at Newtonville Books last week for a reading by several of the anthology’s authors. Introduced by John Dufresne (the anthology’s editor), Lynne Barrett, Colin Channer, Jon Clinch and Ann Hood took turns reading excerpts from their stories.
Despite its name, Blue Christmas is not exclusively filled with tales of hopelessness and heartache. Some of the stories contain intimations of good things to come. There’s comedy, too. In Ann Hood’s “La Viglia,” a woman named Connie goes with her boor of a husband, Vincent, and son, Davy, to celebrate Christmas in her childhood home. While standing at the front door, Connie is going over in her mind the “ever-growing list of disappointments” in her life and the mistakes she has made, starting with her marriage.
Ann Hood read from the point at which Connie, Vince and Davy walk into Connie’s mother’s house:
“Even … as [they go] inside, Vincent doesn’t move right away. He has his hands on Connie’s waist and he gives her the tiniest shove with his erection before releasing her. Like a teenager, he loves that thing. I’ve got a chubby, he whispers in her ear in bed at night. A woody. A Johnson. Little Vinny, he calls it. Little V”
A woman I didn’t know was sitting in the row just ahead of mine. When Ann finished reading, the woman turned around towards me.
“I don’t know about you,” she said, smiling. “but I’m sure I’ve met that guy before.”
I’d just been thinking the same thing.
The stories in Blue Christmas are not uplifting like the seasonal stereotypes we’re used to, but they will transport you to other worlds, offering suspense and insight. I recommend this book especially to those of you who tire of the typical yuletide reading fare and want something more bracing – and, sad to say, more true to life.
*B&B Press is a new imprint, a project of Florida-based Books and Books.
** Contributors are: Diana Abu-Jaber, Preston Allen, Steve Almond, Lynne Barrett, Tricia Bauer, Colin Channer, Jon Clinch, John Dufresne, Ed Falco, Robert Goolrick, Ben Greenman, James W. Hall, Jane Hamilton, Ann Hood, Lee Martin, Ana Menendez, and Les Standiford