Skipping Christmas

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series The 12 Days of Christmas

Published: 2001
Author: John Grisham

Not the cynical satire I was hoping for

I love Christmas, as is probably evident from the fact that I’m running a 12 Days of Christmas series. I love the gifts, the sentimentality and the sheer corniness of the whole season. I cry at films like Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas, and as for The Christmas Shoes – that film sends me into sobbing fits that make people think that I’m recently bereaved. I’m not a total sap though, I have a cynical streak that I quite like to indulge. I was hoping that John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas would dampen some of the overly sugary effects of a month of festivities.

This was Grisham’s first (and I believe only) foray into the world of non-legal fiction. The Kranks are a middle aged couple whose daughter Blair leaves America the day after Thanksgiving to join the Peace Corps. Accountant Luther adds up the cost of celebrating Christmas each year and is stunned to discover that it comes to over $6,000. Eager to save money and to have a little change Luther persuades his wife Nora to forego their usual parties, decorations and spending and instead have a Caribbean cruise. Nora initially takes some persuading but agrees to Luther’s plans. Their resolve is tested when the community refuses to accept their decision.

This should have been a funny and biting satire on the commercialisation of Christmas. Unfortunately, while it started that way it descended into farce and then the kind of gooey sentimentality that I was hoping to avoid. I was almost completely on Luther’s side, I completely see the appeal of a Caribbean cruise rather than the same old overindulgence in turkey and booze. The idea of spending Christmas in the sunshine, away from the madness sounds lovely. He does go slightly over the top with his pronouncements that there will be no cards, decorations, tree, parties etc but in general he was right. He wasn’t the most likeable character ever but there was something quite appealing about him and his plans for the season. Nora, despite being a bit wet, was relatively likeable until the final act. Her character then turned into a screeching harridan and it became all too obvious why Luther wanted some respite from the annual horror show that is Christmas in middle-class America.

Fittingly the street that the Kranks live on is called Hemlock and if I lived there I’d want to avail myself of that very plant. All of the neighbours put up the same Frosty the Snowman decoration on their roof in order to win a competition for the best decorated street in the area and when Luther refuses to participate for the first time the façade of community is destroyed. The neighbours instigate what can only be described as a hate campaign against the poor couple – who knows how they would cope if a Muslim or Jewish family moved onto the street. I was rather hoping that the book would end with the Kranks returning from their idyllic cruise to find that the street had been wiped out in some crazy Frosty explosion. Sadly that wasn’t to be.

About half-way through the book there is a twist that means the Kranks have to change their plans and this is where everything goes wrong for Grisham. Instead of being a clever and witty satire, Skipping Christmas descends into exactly the kind of schmaltzy message about the “real meaning of Christmas” that I had been hoping to avoid.

Christmas in Middle America sounds wonderful – as long as you are a good Christian who does exactly what society demands that you do. Don’t try to be original, don’t try to make your own decisions and certainly don’t refuse to conform to the perceived norm.

Previous and next posts in this series:<< The Muppet Christmas CarolTop Ten: TV Box-Sets >>
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  1. I admit I didn’t really care for this one.

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