Augusten Burroughs and Christmas? An odd combo, but one in which Burroughs seems to revel. You Better Not Cry, read with unique Burroughsian timing and italic emphasis by the author, is a collection of seven short stories that evoke a darker side of this often candy-coated holiday. The grown-up Burroughs admits that he’s always loved Christmas, openly as a kid and secretly in his super-cool, anti-Christmas 20s—but “every single one has really been kind of hideous.” And in his signature dry, edgy comedic style, he tells these tales of cataclysm, cringe moments and all, from the young Augusten’s confusion about Jesus and Santa to waking up next to an unknown raunchy, paunchy, street-corner St. Nick. Definitely not for the faint of heart, or the sexually squeamish (an unusual problem with Christmas stories), this most candid of memoirists evokes poignancy and a kind of subversive nostalgia, spiked with flaws and good intentions.
In Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story, Wally Lamb’s latest, you can’t help but share the author’s evident joy and fun in this warm, charming, laugh-out-loud fictional flashback to 1964, starring Felix Funicello (yes, Annette’s cousin), an effervescent, curly-headed parochial-school fifth-grader in blue-collar New London, Connecticut. Lamb is such a facile narrator that you forget you’re not actually hearing Felix as he describes his pranks—one causing Sister Dymphna’s major meltdown—introduces the kids in his class, including a fabulous Russian immigrant with both a talent for “bezbull” and “bodacious bazoom-booms,” and his teacher Mademoiselle Marguerite, who had a penchant for leopard-spotted high heels, and recounts the high drama that surrounded that year’s Christmas pageant. This is the happy flip-side of Augusten Burroughs’ Noël nasties.
A 21st-century Scrooge
Do not wear mascara while listening to Richard Paul Evans’ The Christmas List, read most convincingly by John Dossett, and keep the Kleenex close. Unless your heart is made of granite, you will cry and, in the end, smile through your tears. Evans has spun a tale of a modern-day Scrooge, and replaced the Christmas ghosts with a clever device that serves the same purpose. Not many people get to read their obituaries when they are still in fine fettle, but James Kier, a fierce, ruthless businessman and real-estate mogul, does, and what he reads about himself and the legacy he’ll leave makes him look deep into his soul. Kier has treated everyone with cold-blooded disdain and an inhuman lack of concern. He’s even in the process of divorcing his long-devoted wife, now in dreadful pain and dying of cancer, and has destroyed his relationship with his only son. Like Scrooge, Kier finds the strength to attain redemption, makes reparations and discovers anew the true meaning of Christmas.
Cassie, 33 with a loudly ticking biological clock, knows exactly what she wants for Christmas: the perfect husband, with whom she’ll produce the perfect family. Not easy to come by, and so far, nothing has worked. But super-selling Debbie Macomber is here and rescue may just be on the way. In The Perfect Christmas, performed in engaging 30-something-ese by Tavia Gilbert, Macomber does what she does best and treats us to a warm-hearted Christmas romance. When Cassie’s best girlfriend suggests consulting a professional matchmaker, she balks. But then, in nothing-ventured-nothing-gained mode, Cassie goes to see Simon Beaumont, who, if he takes you on, assures a match. Simon sets out three holiday-themed tasks for his new client, promising her the prize when they’re completed. Don’t worry—a happy ending is guaranteed.