Review by C.J. Bunce
If you’re not familiar with her novels, you should be. Connie Willis is probably the best living science fiction author, winner of all the science fiction writing awards, penning classics like To Say Nothing of the Dog, Lincoln’s Dreams, Bellwether, Remake, Doomsday Book, and many others. But you might not know she’s also a fan of the Christmas story, and has written two collections of stories, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories and A Lot Like Christmas. This year she was tapped to select the contents for American Christmas Stories, an all-new collection of 132 years in 59 stories from well-known and lesser-known writers and authors, from Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and Langston Hughes, to Ed McBain, Shirley Jackson, and Ray Bradbury. Readers will find writers across the ages combining multiple genres with the Christmas tale like science fiction and horror. All reflect the American experience from 1872 to 2004. It’s an incredible look at culture in America, both good and bad, and it’s available now here at Amazon.
As Willis recounts it in her Introduction, Christmas has been a religious, national, historical, and corporate-infused holiday, incorporating classic traditions and ethnic customs from all over. Here she intentionally excludes both the popular and well-known (so you’ll find no Rudolph or Frosty here), and the syrupy, what Willis would call saccharine (think Hallmark Christmas movies)–the ones most familiar to modern audiences, opting instead for more historical voices and viewpoints.
One story in American Christmas Stories finds George Ade retelling O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi in the context of a husband wanting a set of Edgar Allan Poe books. In one essay Dorothy Parker recounts what she hated most about Christmas in the year 1916. Mark Twain writes a letter to his daughter from Santa in a wonderfully sweet addition to the book. William Dean Howells wrote a perfect bedtime morality tale reflecting life in 1892, a timeless read little kids in the 21st century should love.
Langston Hughes and John Henrik Clarke paint a very different picture of Santa Claus many will be familiar with in their autobiographical stories of being black in America, along with a contribution by W.E.B. Du Bois. A few stories discuss the bleak perspective of the life of domestic servants at Christmas throughout the years. And James Thurber takes the well-known Clement C. Moore Christmas story, A Visit from St. Nicholas, and gives it an Ernest Hemingway-style update and re-write.
My favorite? Raymond E. Banks sci-fi tale, Christmas Trombone about a future earth where a man’s beloved trombone is arrested at Christmas, and A Chaparral Christmas Gift, a brilliantly penned O. Henry tale of a Western villain in a Santa suit redeemed by love.
Other familiar authors in American Christmas Stories include Stephen Crane, Jack London, John Updike, and a story by Connie Willis.
The tree, the carols, the spirit, the hopes and disappointments, the traffic, the toy stores, the commercialization, the chaos, the nostalgia from all the angles–it’s all there. It’s an immersive dive into the history of America through the lens of its most popular holiday. Just in time for Christmas, American Christmas Stories is available now here at Amazon.