Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis

>> Friday, December 05, 2014

TITLE: Miracle and Other Christmas Stories
AUTHOR: Connie Willis

COPYRIGHT: 1999
PAGES: 336
PUBLISHER: Bantam

SETTING: Varies
TYPE: Short story collection
SERIES: None

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The winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, Connie Willis capture the timeless essence of generosity and goodwill in this magical collection if Christmas stories. These eight tales-two of which have never before been published-boldly reimagine the stories of Christmas while celebrating the power of love and compassion..
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My first Christmas read of the season wasn't a success, but this one really hit the spot. I read it for my book club, where we have a tradition of reading something Christmas-related for our December meeting.

This collection had a nice variety of stories.

The first story is Miracle, where we get the crazy preparations for a completely over-the-top office party. This one is about how you sometimes don't know what you want, even when what you need is right in front of you. It's themed around the contrast between It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street (liking the latter over the former is a sign of being a great person). The crazy office politics reminded me quite a bit of Bellwhether, and there are other stories in the collection where Willis' satirical view of office life plays a part. I enjoyed that, but on the whole the story was just ok, not very subtle and a bit predictable. Also, I think I would have enjoyed the story more if I'd watched the two movies in question!

In Inn, a choir singer sneaks around her priest to shelter a young, foreign homeless couple who are clearly about to become parents (it might be snowing outside, but homeless people steal stuff, and it's more important to get the Christmas service just right than to help them). Obviously, there's more to the homeless couple than meets the eye. This one wasn't my favourite. The message was a bit heavy-handed, and the farce element (lots of going out one door right before someone comes in the other) was a bit much.

In Coppelius's Toy Shop features a selfish young man who grudgingly agrees to do a favour for a young mum (he wants to get into her pants), and ends up in a crowded toy shop right before Christmas. This one was really well done, and pretty creepy. I think I might have identified with the (objectively pretty horrid) protagonist more than I was intended to, because this toy shop felt like my version of hell as well. Maybe it's because I had to go into Hamley's when I was in London last week. I really, really couldn't wait to get out!

The Pony is the shortest one in the book and one of my favourites. On the surface it's quite a mundane situation: a young girl opening presents with her mum and aunt, and a present unexpectedly arriving for the aunt. There's nothing overtly wrong, but the sense of threat and creepiness grows and grows until it was really screaming at me in the end. I'm not sure how Willis did it, but it was great.

The main character in Adaptation is a bookshop employee whose ex-wife is determined to sabotage his plans for Christmas with their daughter. Into the mix come the Ghosts of Christmas, who are not as effective these days as in the 19th century. I was underwhelmed by this one, particularly because I found the ex-wife character much too cartoonish.

Cat's Paw was probably my favourite. It's a Golden Age-type mystery, with a Poirot-like detective and his Hastings-equivalent narrator, but set in the near future. Touff├ęt is invited by an aristocrat to solve a mystery in her manor right before Christmas-time. Before long it becomes clear there's no mystery: she's an apes' rights activist who was just looking for some publicity, but an unforeseen event means there's a mystery to solve after all. I had lots of fun with this one. It's a knowing and funny parody of Agatha Christie's mysteries (complete with the big reveal scene, in which the detective points out in turn how every single character had a motive), made surreal by the setting and the talking, intelligent apes. And then there's the neat little twist at the end. I loved it.

Newsletter was my second favourite, very closely behind Cat's Paw. It's a hilarious story featuring a protagonist who suspects people are being taken over by aliens who make them unfeasibly polite and nice (which, this being set right before Christmas, is NOT the usual behaviour). Again, there's a really good twist at the end.

Finally, Epiphany follows a priest who has an epiphany and feels compelled to drive east for the second coming. He's joined on the road by others, and the reader suspects that the Bible story he thinks he's in is not the one that's actually being reenacted. It was an interesting story, but the ending felt a bit abrupt.

All in all, this was a good collection. No real duds here at all, and some really good stories.

MY GRADE: A B.

4 comments:

Darlynne,  5 December 2014 at 16:08  

And now my first comment disappeared. Weird. Anyway, sounds great, must look for this book.

Rosario 6 December 2014 at 08:28  

Weird, I did get your first and second comments as email notifications! I think Christmas anthologies are the way to go :)

Barb in Maryland 6 December 2014 at 17:29  

Oh yes, you really do have to be familiar with both movies to appreciate the first story. It is my favorite in the collection, followed closely by 'Newsletter'.
Now you need to track down "All Seated on the Ground"--though I will warn you, it is very madcap. However, if you have any experience with being in a choir, there are parts that will ring oh so very true. Plus, there are aliens...

Rosario 7 December 2014 at 07:40  

I've got it! I picked up a print copy a while ago (not sure why, the ebook must have been a lot more expensive), so perfect for my next flight. I've got 2 stopovers, so 6 separate take-off/landing 'turn off all electronic devices' periods! It's a short book, so that should do it!

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