We can’t mandate happiness on the calendar… and yet… we try to do it anyway. We strive to be merry and joyful.
I’m not a big fan of holiday stories so I approached this trade paperback with some trepidation. As I walked through Target one day, the cute cover caught my eye and I noticed that the author, Sandra Harper, is a USC graduate. Ok… I didn’t buy it that day but I finally gave in to temptation on my next trip to Borders.
Let’s just say that this book was not as bad as I feared it would be (holiday theme and all), but not as good as I hoped it might be. Still, it’s an easy and relaxing read and if you’re going to read a story about Christmas, why not do so in December? Oh, and it has a great subtitle: “It’s all relatives…”
Over the Holidays deals with three women: the usually happily married Vanessa who faces temptation in the form of a young playwright, her artist sister Thea, and sister-in-law Patience. It seems that each year Vanessa and her all-too-dependable spouse visit the uptight, if extroverted, Patience in the Boston area for the holidays, but this year many factors combine – including economic hardships – to change the typical plans. Thus it turns out that Patience, her husband and their soon-to-leave-for-college daughter (U.C. Santa Cruz or USC?) travel to Los Angeles to celebrate the holidays at Vanessa’s.
Part of the fun of the story is seeing how the visitors from the east react to a Christmas in a city where many simply don’t celebrate it, at least not in traditional ways. Patience’s brood is like a trio of aliens who’ve landed in the overly sunny and warm climate of L.A. Then there’s the fact that Vanessa and Patience have completely different perspectives on holidays: “I’m just not great in the holiday department… I’m better at everyday life…” says Vanessa. To this, Patience replies, “I’m definitely a holiday person, I like to look forward to things. Special days. It keeps me going.”
There’s a good deal of humor in Holidays, although it’s covered up with more than a touch of sadness. (“Why do we pretend things are different than they really are?”) And while it’s a fun read, it starts off quite slowly, not really moving along until the reader has hit page 80 out of 325. There are also far too many long conversations used to tell the story, to the point where it reads like a court transcript. Pick up the book at Target, for example, and read page 66 – it’s just people talking back and forth to each other and all in quotes.
There are also too many characters for the average reader to follow without difficulty, and a few too many crude moments/scenes (and overly adult language) that could have been left out. But in the end, the characters learn to accept what they already have and not to mistake paradise for that home on down the road. Yes, they learn to love what they already have; at least once they’ve reached the month of January. As Vanessa concludes: “I love January, so blissfully free of holidays…” Exclamation point.