It only makes sense in life that the more niche-y or specific you get, the slimmer the pickin’s and the more difficult it is to find things of quality. As it is with Christmas reading. Most great authors don’t have a Christmas book. There is quite a lot written, but it is taken up largely by the popular genre authors, and I am just not a big fan of cozies (nor, overall, is the writing in that category especially high-brow). When John Grisham wrote a Christmas novel, it was a success before it even hit the shelves. Then the movie version, Christmas with the Kranks, was released quickly, securing a place in holiday literary history for Grisham which he probably doesn’t deserve.
I mean, kudos to him for taking advantage of the desire for a good, Christmas read (I would love to do this, myself, and have a novel in notes with all the others), but it’s hardly a great book. I have never read anything from John Grisham, and have read like maybe one book in his usual genre: legal thrillers. (Lawyers who become writers is a conversation that I’m not going to have right now.) People definitely do, though, as Grisham’s (and others’) thrillers shoot to the top of the best-sellers lists as soon as they are published. Skipping Christmas, riding on Grisham’s coattails, was one of these. It is not, however, a thriller of any sort; just a short, general novel. I suppose it’s a bit satire and comedy, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
If you haven’t seen the movie, Skipping Christmas follows the middle-aged Krank couple over the course of one holiday season. Their daughter, Blaire, has been accepted into the PeaceCorps in Peru and leaves at Thanksgiving, expecting to be incommunicado and gone for a year. Mr. Krank is an accountant, and when he realizes that they spent more than $6000 on their previous Christmas traditions, he comes up with the idea of “skipping Christmas” and using the money to go on a cruise, instead. They book their tickets for Christmas day, notify all their friends and neighbors of their plans to completely abstain, and the fun begins. As Krank muses, there are those in the jealous-hero category and those in the jealous-angry category, and very few people are going to let the Kranks off easy. Each day is a gauntlet of dodging rituals and wild circumstances that make for a pretty funny story. Of course, there’s a twist at the end and something added to make sure we learn something about Christmas spirit.
Well, I had read this book before, but since it was listed in all the lists I could find of holiday reading, I thought I would read it again and review. It was on my shelf. And it doesn’t take very long. It’s also not a great book. I think, with the story line, it could have been, but there are even some spelling and grammatical errors, like nobody cares as long as it comes out quick and is labeled “Grisham.” The issues are mostly in the writing style, which is mediocre, but also in the story itself. We definitely need better supporting characters, including some friends, to step in and have some depth and humor. The jokes are really reaching. The storyline is, at times, suface-y and inauthentic. It felt like it was an attempt at satirizing and being heartfelt—which can be accomplished together—but I don’t think it made it on either count. But some of the biggest issues: who would really have a problem with their neighbors or friend skipping Christmas? (I guess making it a neighborhood light award is a good attempt at making this work.) And—more problematic—what’s with the ending? Grisham could have kept most of the ending (like how the neighbors come together to support people they have been at odds with) but still left out the whole Kranks treating their mid-twenties, world-travelling daughter like a sheltered baby and choosing a life-long lie over the not-at-all-damaging truth.
Not to mention, there are a couple super-weird moments referring to Enrique’s skin color. I can’t even tell if they are racist or just confused, referring to their own tanning for the cruise. I don’t know what’s going on there, but it’s certainly uncomfortable and could be offensive.
Because there aren’t that many holiday books in the literary or even upmarket fiction categories, I find that the holiday reading can be crammed with books that I wouldn’t normally read. Obviously, it’s good enough for huge popularity and for this book to make an appearance on like every holiday reading list I found. It’s not a writer’s writing. I like the idea, but it never pulled me in. It felt like an assigned reading because I was barely engaged with the characters. It would be a good novel to keep stocked at a ski resort or a wintertime bed-and-breakfast or something.
MOVIE: Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
You won’t hear this too often: I like the movie better. The critics hate this movie despite it’s star-studded cast (heck, it’s got 5% on Rotten Tomatoes), but the populace return to it year after year. It’s one of those almost-a-classic holiday movies and the kids and I enjoy watching it. It has those funny moments that you laugh at again and again and all the holiday themes, iconography, etc. The acting is good, I think. I can never decide if a couple of the main actors didn’t overdo it a bit. I still get hung up on the big lie at the end and the strangeness of the reaction of everyone to a couple wanting to skip Christmas, but I still enjoy pulling this movie out about once a year-ish. It also always makes me want to skip Christmas and go on a cruise, myself. (By the way, the name was changed because another movie—Surviving Christmas—was coming out about the same time and they didn’t want any confusion. Surviving Christmas tanked so hard—no one liked it—and has disappeared into movie oblivion.) There are those who hate this movie. I’m cool with it.