Miracle And Other Christmas Stories
by Connie Willis, contemporary/fantasy (2000)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58048-5

There are many ways to write a Christmas cash-in, er, book. One can make a manipulative soapy melodrama. One can rip off Nora Ephron's script, add in fifteen gallons of sugar, and create elevator muzak. (These two options would work only for those deliberately seeking manipulative, shallow, and use-free mush. Cynics stay away.) Or one can be Connie Willis and create a novel for the cynic and the disenchanted.

Miracle And Other Christmas Stories is a short story anthology by this author. The stories all first appeared in various SF magazines between 1985 to 1997 and are now collected in one volume. It's a celebration of Noel with a healthy dose of wit, style, coolness, and a proud finger salute to manipulative weepies and blatant commercialism of Christmas.

It's not exactly the grand finger salute like Kevin Smith's irreverent yet inspiring movie Dogma, but it is a finger salute all the same.

The introduction is worth the price of the book alone. Christmas is about faith and laughter, the author says, so here's the grand finger to Hand Christian Andersen (he started the whole manipulative-tearjerker-around-Christmas nonsense - what's with the anorexic match girls freezing to death and all those children dying, dude?), It's A Wonderful Life (celebration of martyrhood and damn, the bad guy got away!), and all those sappy movies about ill kids dying on Christmas eve - stick you! And at the same time the author celebrates Dickens' A Christmas Carol (amen) and Miracle On 34th Street, as well as many movies that inspires and celebrates hope and new beginning on Christmas day without resorting to prepubescent genocide and blatantly cloying sentimentality.

I'm hooked right away from the introduction. Bring those stories on, Ms Willis!

The first short story is a bit shaky though, as Miracle has a heroine too much like Ally McBeal for comfort. But there's one reason to rejoice - the heroine doesn't go for the cute hunk, she goes for the overweight but sensitive softie.

That's the fun of this story. Unhindered by the shallow limitations of the romance genre, this author lets her imagination fly free and create some of the most interesting tales that manages to be heartwarming and romantic. Invasion Of The Body Snatcher on Christmas Day is what the heh-heh funny Newsletter offers, while a transparently-inspired-by-Dr-Watson narrator contemplates gorilla, chimpanzee, and murdering his detective companion in a Isle of Dr Moreau meets Sherlock Holmes tale. A bad, bad Scrooge gets his just desserts in In Coppelius's Toyshop while escapes scot free when the two out of three Spirits of Christmas face modern corporate downsizing in Adaptation. But the Spirits found an unlikely friend in the latter story, which manages to be heartfelt as well as humorous.

And I must also mention the very short and right-on The Pony. What happens when Santa Claus starts giving everyone presents? Not just the present one wants, but the person's heartfelt want, i.e. what you really, really want but don't really dare tell it to your parents? A modern, absolutely jaded shrink realizes she doesn't dare open her gift from Santa. Heh heh.

There are other stories, of course, all fun in their own individual ways. All mercilessly razorblades the Christmas greeting card, exposing the insubstantiality of Christmas sentimentality, yet ultimately bringing on the message that Christmas is a time for love, sharing, and giving. Just without going overboard with the kids stricken by cancer and other stuff some authors think it's cool to make readers weep over or giggle at. And the final word only caps off my adoration of this book. Let's just say any book that recommends While You Were Sleeping over that blood-pressure-raising anthem to misguided martyrhood It's A Wonderful Life (yeah, let me take all the blames of this world and an angel will stop me from jumping off the bridge - where's my hair suit and my bed of nails?) as a good movie to overcome Christmas blues gets my vote.

Connie Willis writes these stories to entertain and to make a point, not to manipulate me into weeping copiously for some inane Pollyanna wimpy woman who couldn't possibly know how to cross a street. She doesn't make that cute, annoying giggling kid burst into tumors so that I will go ugh ugh ugh - so sad - ugh ugh ugh. And by doing so, she succeeds in making me smile and believe where all those purveyors of muzak fail.

Christmas? Okay, it's not too bad. Really!

Rating: 89

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