Today I’m making a Christmassy sidestep into commercial fiction for a change. Moreover I’m leaving Europe to take you to a typical well-to-do suburbia of a big city as it can be found everywhere in the USA between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Well, at least the place corresponds with the stereotype which countless American TV series, films and novels engraved in my Austrian mind over the years. I’m sure that I couldn’t feel at home in a neighbourhood of houses decorated with glaring lights and kitsch plastic figures. I know that I couldn’t be at ease with people urging me to be jolly and sociable all the time because they have no understanding for my quiet nature. It’s no wonder that the novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham attracted my attention. Here’s my review!
John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, USA, in February 1955. After high school he attended different universities graduating from Mississippi State University in 1977 and from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1983. While practicing criminal law and serving in the House of Representatives of Mississippi he began writing his first novel A Time to Kill which was published in 1989. Two years later he released his second novel, The Firm, which became a bestseller. Many other highly successful novels followed, most of them legal thrillers like for instance The Client (1993), The Rainmaker (1995), The Testament (1999), The Summons (2002), The Broker (2005), and his most recent work Sycamore Row (2013). Skipping Christmas is a comedy and appeared in 2001. John Grisham lives in Virginia and Mississippi.
Skipping Christmas starts with the Kranks at the airport just after Thanksgiving. Luther and Nora say good-bye to their twenty-three-year-old daughter Blair who is leaving for Peru to work for the Peace Corps for two years. They let the recently graduated go with heavy hearts. It’s also an awkward situation for the three of them because Christmas is forthcoming and for the first time the family will be separated. On their way back home from the airport Nora declares that she needs a few things from the grocery and it’s Luther who sets out for the crowded shop. The Christmas buying frenzy is already in full swing at Chip’s.
“What a waste, Luther thought to himself. Why do we eat so much and drink so much in the celebration of the birth of Christ? … He got bumped by a shopping cart. No apology, no one noticed. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was coming from above, as if Luther was supposed to be comforted. Might as well be “Frosty the Snowman.”
… Luther was forced to move off the curb, and in doing so he stepped just left instead of just right. His left foot sank into five inches of cold slush. … and standing at the curb with two frozen feet and the bell clanging away and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” blaring from the loudspeaker and the sidewalk blocked by revelers, Luther began to hate Christmas.”
When Nora finally is asleep that night, Luther goes down to his basement office. He’s a partner in taxes of a “boutique” accounting firm and also as a private man he keeps meticulous records of his expenses. It doesn’t cost him much time to find out that the previous year the family spent $6,100 on Christmas.
“And what was left of it? Perhaps a useful item or two, but nothing much—$6,100!”
Now he has a mission. He’s determined to skip Christmas and to spend the money on something pleasurable instead. The next morning Luther sneaks away from work and goes to the travel agency in the atrium of his building where he books a ship cruise to the Caribbean for himself and his wife. The vessel called Island Princess will leave on Christmas Day. All that still needs to be done is to convince Nora, but he knows her well and the fact that Blair will be away in Peru at Christmas is a good argument in his favour. Nora remains sceptical although she gives in offering only little resistance. However, the Kranks haven’t taken into account the reaction of their surroundings. They don’t understand them and some of them do everything in their power to put the Kranks off their plan. And then, on Christmas Eve, Blair calls from Miami because she’s on her way home! Luther and Nora have less than seven hours to prepare the tree, the decorations, Frosty up on the roof, the Christmas party, everything.
The novel Skipping Christmas is a light and entertaining read with a formula plot offering many amusing turns in a simple and easy-to-read language. On the whole it’s a rather too conventional comedy to my taste. From the very beginning the average reader will know just like me that it won’t be as easy as Luther imagines to skip a tradition which is observed by most people around, including friends, colleagues, neighbours, and volunteers working for charity who know that his family has always been of the party. And as soon as Luther books the ship cruise and convinces Nora of his plans it’s clear that something will happen to make the Kinks’ efforts and sacrifices obsolete and that they will never go onboard the Island Princess to enjoy their sea cruise. Of course, it’s also inevitable that all the excitement and confusion will lead to a happy end – life as we want it to be, but as it seldom is.
In general I don’t appreciate novels with such an obvious plot because most of them just bore me to death. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham is at least funny and well-written. Maybe it provides real comfort and escape to more extraverted people than me, while I think that the plot would have offered the perfect opportunity for much deeper reflection. However, I appreciate the little lesson about group pressure which this novel contains and also the open critique of our consumer society. All things considered, it’s a read which I can recommend with good conscience.