Monday, January 11, 2016

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

This review may seem a little out of place now that we’re well past Christmas, but I read it the week of Christmas and only now have gotten to writing up the review. Generally, I try to write a review soon after reading the book, while all my ideas and feelings are still fresh, but this book was so utterly disappointing I didn’t really want to think about it for a while.

Skipping Christmas is the story that one of my very favorite Christmas movies – Christmas with the Kranks – is based on. It also one of those rare cases where the movie is infinitely better than the book. I recently watched the movie again, and wrote about it here. When I was looking for some new Christmas books this year, someone recommended this book, and I was very excited when I realized what it was. I shouldn’t have bothered.

If you’re familiar with Christmas with the Kranks, you know the concept. If you’re not here’s the back-of-the-book blurb:

Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded shops, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That's just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they'll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on the street without a rooftop Frosty the snowman; they won't be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they aren't even going to have a tree. They won't need one, because come December 25 they're setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences - and isn't half as easy as they'd imagined.

This was a singularly frustrating and borderline depressing read. Luther is a selfish, self-absorbed Grinch, inflicting his ugly attitude upon his reluctant wife. He is rude to her, uncaring towards anyone around him, and constantly bringing a sourness and even anger into his circumstances. Nora goes along with the idea, more enthusiastically over time, but never once in the entire story did I feel like they were together on anything. The tension and outright unloving-ness between them really grated on me after just a few chapters. But the hardest part for me was Luther. After all the whole story is about him.

His character may not sound so different from the movie, but where Tim Allen brought humor and sympathy to the character, Luther in the book is so cold and harsh I never felt anything but pure dislike for him. “Movie Luther” had a kind of pitiful desperation about him that made him comically lovable. I also never once doubted that he and his wife loved each other. In the book, I never once believed they loved each other. And where the movie's ending was a sweet and believable message of redemption and mending fences, the book's ending was simple not convincing. I never believed Luther was a better or more likable person.

Apart from the characters, the writing style was not my most favorite either. Most of the story was narrated by an outside omniscient narrator telling you what’s going on, and I never really felt like I stepped inside the story’s world. The best writing makes you forget there’s a writer. This book couldn’t do that for me.

It could be that my biggest problem with this book is the fact that I can’t take it on its own. I keep comparing it to the film I loved so much. Maybe that’s one of the advantages to reading a book before watching the movie. But on this one, I’m very glad I saw the movie first, because the book most likely would’ve discouraged me from ever watching it. That said, it is a fast, clean, and light Christmas read, something to pad the empty corners of your holiday reading list if you’re looking for a new story. I don’t regret reading it, but neither would I read it again.

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