Friday, December 14, 2012

Some neglected holiday gems

Looking for something a little different this Christmas? Same old holiday stories got you down? Have I got some some holiday treats for you!

Truman Capote wrote a pair of excellent Christmas stories: "A Christmas Memory" and "One Christmas," both of which were made into award-winning television specials in the 1960s but have fallen into undeserved obscurity since then. Thankfully, these stories are widely anthologized and may be found in several of his books, including three here at GCPL. First, there's the slim holiday collection A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor, which presents all three of Capote's tales about seven-year-old Buddy and his elderly cousin Miss Sook Faulk in one neat package. Buddy, the boy abandoned by his mother and sent to live with her dirt-poor relatives in Depression-era Alabama, is a fictionalized version of Capote himself. Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird probably know that the  character Dill in that book is also based on young Capote. Unlike the comic Dill, though, Buddy will break your heart with his sensitivity and his utter devotion to his childlike, much-older cousin.

All of the Buddy and Sook stories also may be found in The Complete Stories of Truman Capote, a thick Modern Library collection with a marvelous introduction by Reynolds Price. And "A Christmas Memory" is the third story included with Capote's famous novella in Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories. No matter which of these volumes you choose, Capote's writing will dazzle you and his Christmas tales are guaranteed to bring a lump to your throat.

Pete Hamill's semi-autobiographical Christmas tales are about as different from Truman Capote's as is humanly possible, yet they are packed every bit as full of familial devotion and heartbreaking nostalgia as are Capote's. Hamill's latest book, The Christmas Kid and Other Brooklyn Stories, hit the shelves just in time for the holidays. The title story is surprisingly warm and comic considering that "The Christmas Kid" is a young Polish-Jewish boy, a Holocaust survivor whose sole remaining relative is a bachelor uncle in Brooklyn. What happens when his doting uncle dies unexpectedly is a kind of roughneck Christmas miracle complete with a trio tough-talking wise men from the East.

The Gift, Hamill's short Christmas novel from a few years back, is thinly veiled autobiography, telling the story of a jilted and homesick teenaged sailor home on leave during the Korean War. It is wonderfully evocative, perfectly conveying the bewildering combination of restlessness and dislocation that accompanies a young person's first visit home after entering the adult world. And hanging over it all is the mortal threat of combat on the other side of the world. The conclusion of Hamill's moody Christmas novella is absolutely unique in holiday literature will not be to everyone's liking. But even if the Christmas Eve reconciliation of the story's protagonist and his n'er-do-well father seems forced or disturbing, there is an unmistakable joy to it. In any case, Hamill is a master of dry-eyed nostalgia and worth reading no matter the season.

Click on the title or the cover of any book mentioned in this review to find it in our catalog.

Review by Don Beistle

No comments:

Post a Comment