Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 0-8217-7225-2
Contemporary Romance, 2002
“Oh damn, how did she get into my book bag?” I mutter as I fish out this book (holding it with my thumb and index finger) after a hard day’s work at the bookstore bankrupting myself. The plot sounds stupid, and I would bet that this story is another small town glorification nonsense. Oh well, best get it over with, I think and sit down to read.
“This is so adorable!” I hear myself say somewhere around page 100.
I’m so ashamed. I know, it is not cool to like a book by Janet Dailey. In fact, the accepted reaction is supposed to be scorn and sneer – “Oh, can she write, I mean, can she really write? But if I have to lose all shreds of my remaining dignity and credibility, so be it.
I love Scrooge Wore Spurs.
It is the epitome of everything I will loathe: four monster kids, a die-hard mule rancher hero, and blind anti-townie rhetoric. Oh yes, and it is a Christmas book. It is also pretty much a nanny story, but with the twist: the hero Eben MacCallister (Eben the Scrooge, geddit?) is the one who plays the nanny.
Eben isn’t a very smart man. He is too cheap to hire a lawyer, so he realizes too late that he has given the town banker (naturally the villain) free rein to come in and foreclose his ranch. His two possibly illegal immigrant workers whom he hires on slaves’ wages are no help. He hates townies, he hates his late sister (whose funeral he refuses to pay for), and he hates the kids his late sister left in his care.
His ex Maddie left him because she knows that he will never get around to marry her. To him, money comes first. He doesn’t even buy her a ring the last time, mind you. Here’s the thing: Maddie is smart. I like her. She actually howls in laughter when she sees Eben struggling with the four brats, and when she helps him, it’s because she wants to and not because she has to. I like that. In small town romances, non-desperate, actually financially stable heroines like Maddie are rare like dodos.
The kids at first terrify me, because they complete each other’s sentences.
“Like this,” Monster Kid One says.
“Because we are all telepathically linked,” Monster Kid Two adds.
“Monsters from Janet Dailey’s evil mad scientist lab,” Monster Kid Three cackles.
“And we’re taking over the world!” Monster Kid Four finishes.
All four: “Bwahahahaha!”
But after a while, they become adorable lil’ monster monkeys in a chorus line. Oh what the heck, if the Gilmore Girls can have singing exposition guitar players, what’s a bunch of chorus chimpanzees right? It’s Christmas! Okay, it’ll be Christmas in December, but still.
But what I really like best is Eben’s Scrooge-like epiphany. He starts out a hilariously miserly and bad-tempered goon, it is karmic justice that he has to deal with four monster kids who drive him crazy. He is like a snapping old bulldog, rather dim, rather loud, but pretty harmless in the end, and I like him despite everything. Maddie is like his Ghost of Christmas Past, offering advice and making bets with him just to prod him along in the right direction. She and Eben may not be the sensitive lovers of the millennium, but they are pretty much fun together. Between her pragmatism and intelligence and his surly and impulsive ways, they balance each other out most wonderfully.
There is also something rather satisfying – if petty – about seeing a complete goon like Eben tamed and groomed to look, well, not like a pretty poodle, but at least a more pleasant-looking bulldog. Eben doesn’t become Mr Nice by the end, but he’s learning, and I like this better than any unrealistic overnight changes. In Scrooge Wore Spurs, Eben really makes a convincing and adorable Scrooge – over the top and hilarious – and his reformation makes an amusing romp of a story.