For all its clever curmudgeonly edge and minor charms, no way does this Christmas yarn from Grisham rank with A Christmas Carol, as the publisher claims. Nor does it rank with Grisham's own best work. The premise is terrific, as you'd expect from Grisham. Fed up with the commercial aspects of Christmas, particularly all the money spent, and alone for the holiday for the first time in decades (their daughter has just joined the Peace Corps), grumpy Luther Krank and his sweeter wife, Nora, decide to skip Christmas this year to forgo the gifts, the tree, the decorations, the cards, the parties and to spend the dollars saved on a 10-day Caribbean cruise. But as clever as this setup is, its elaboration is ho-hum. There's a good reason why nearly all classic Christmas tales rely on an element of fantasy, for, literarily at least, Christmas is a time of miracles. Grisham sticks to the mundane, however, and his story lacks magic for that. He does a smartly entertaining job of satirizing the usual Christmas frenzy, as Luther and Nora resist entreaties from various charities as well as increasing pressure from their neighbors (all sharply drawn, recognizable members of the generic all-American burb, the book's setting) to do up their house in the traditional way, including installing the giant Frosty that this year adorns the roof of every home on the block except theirs. And when something happens that prompts the Kranks to jump back into Christmas at the last minute, Grisham does slip in a celebration of the real spirit of Christmas, to the point of perhaps squeezing a tear or two from his most sentimental readers (even if he comes uncomfortably close to It's a Wonderful Life to do so). But it's too little, too late. The misanthropy in this short novel makes a good antidote to the more cloying Christmas tales, and the book is fun to read. To compare it to Dickens, however, is...humbug.
Accountant Luther Krank is a Scrooge for the new millennium. He calculates that he and his wife, Nora, can take a Caribbean cruise during Christmas for much less money than they spent during the previous year's Christmas season. But Luther doesn't just want to take a vacation during Christmas; he wants to take a vacation from Christmas and skip it altogether. This means that the Kranks will not buy a Christmas tree or calendar, put up any decorations, send any Christmas cards, give any gifts, or attend or host any parties much to the chagrin of their hyperfestive neighbors. However, an unexpected phone call at the last minute leads to a change in plans. Hilarity ensues, but the poignant conclusion is unforgettable. Grisham astutely captures the way many people spend the holiday season, from fighting the crowds to commenting on their neighbors' Christmas trees. A Painted House was Grisham's first departure from the legal thriller genre, and this further demonstrates his ability to tell a story with nary a courtroom in sight. Highly recommended for all public libraries. —Samantha J. Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY
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