Dec 21, 2011

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis

Connie Willis’ Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is a collection of eight seasonal short stories that cover a variety of genres – from a country house murder mystery in “Cat’s Paws” to a bittersweet family story featuring Christmas spirits in “Adaptation”; from a reworking of the nativity story in “Inn” to a sci-fi alien invasion in “Newsletter”. These eight stories are perhaps not quite as successful as Connie Willis’ longer works, but everything I love about her writing can still be found here: there’s humour, thoughtfulness, strong characterisation, moving moments, complicated but successful plots, and plenty of intertextuality.

Like the best Christmas stories, the ones in this collection are both familiar and new. Many of them, in fact, include twists on well-known plot arcs or reworkings of recognizable tropes. For example, in “Miracle” the characters often discuss the movies It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, and the aggravating environmental guerilla fighter of a Christmas spirit Lauren is sent for Christmas has a Kris Kringle-ish trick of his very own up his sleeve. In “Adaptation”, there are allusions to not only A Christmas Carol but also A Little Princess, and Christmas spirits share the spotlight with figs and frosted cakes. In “Cat’s Paw” (my favourite in the collection), the assistant to the greatest detective in the world tells us how his companion solved a murder mystery at a country house slash research institute on primate intelligence – or did he?

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is also a celebration of everything there is no love about Christmas that doesn’t once stray into sentimentality. Many of these stories pay tribute to connection and empathy, but they do so without ever becoming saccharine. Like “Newsletter” tells us, if everyone suddenly started being nothing but thoughtful and nice at Christmas, we should probably worry. People don’t change suddenly and miraculously (the Scrooge-like character in “Adaptation” certainly doesn’t); Christmas doesn’t make problems go away. Things will carry on being difficult; people will be busier and crankier than ever. But as these stories acknowledge, there’s plenty to celebrate in spite of all this. (This is also why, Connie Willis tells us in the introduction, she much prefers Miracle on 34th Street to It’s a Wonderful Life).

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories includes an introduction and a final word, both about Christmas stories; and also a list of twelve Christmas stories and twelve Christmas movies Connie Willis recommends. I appreciated these lists almost as much as the stories themselves. Willis explains that she wants sharing these stories to be like giving a gift to her readers, just like Robert A. Heinlein leading her to Jerome K. Jerome, for example, was like a gift to her. Many of the books or films she listed were new to me, so it felt like a gift indeed.

So: eight stories that make you see some of the oldest Christmas tales around with new eyes; humour, compassion, and excellent writing; and a gift included at the end. What’s not to love? Miracle and Other Christmas Stories was a perfect seasonal read.

They read it too: Shelf Love, Aneca’s World, Lesa’s Book Critiques, sprite writes

(You?)

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through one of my affiliates links I will get 5%.

14 comments:

  1. I don't think I have ever heard of this author. I love Christmas stories and these would have been wonderful to read over the festive season. Such a wide choice to also include aliens! I love the list of films at the back too.

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  2. I read this quite some time ago, and remember feeling as you do. Ordinarily I run in the opposite direction from short stories, but for Connie Willis, I made the exception!

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  3. I don't really enjoy short stories so I'm always looking forward to recommendations. This sounds great.

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  4. I love Willis, and had no idea that this was even out there, so I was excited to read your review. This is something that I need to check out!

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  5. This sounds great. Short stories and Connie Willis, must see if I can find this before the travel commences.

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  6. aw, these sound really good! Buttttt I have to defend It's a Wonderful Life I don't think the problems disappear, (though obviously there's a reprieve) but rather that George realizes his life has been successful in a different way than he once wanted it to be because of the connections and relationships he has. I really think the ultimate message of the movie, is "no man is a failure who has friends." :) Sorry it's just my favorite movie! ;)

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  7. It sure would be nice if everyone would start being thoughtful and nice. This collection does sound perfect for the holiday season.

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  8. Some of my favorite short stories are reworkings/reimaginings/manipulations of common plot lines and tropes, so this may be a collection for me.

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  9. I've never seen A Wonderful Life! I'm so inadequate when it comes to Christmas movies. :P I like the idea of an author adapting their favorite holiday movies and stories into their own style!

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  10. Vivienne: Oh, you need to read her! But maybe it's best to start with her novels. To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book are both so wonderful.

    Jill: I'm actually a fan of short stories, but I read so few collections this year. This one reminded me of why I like them to begin with!

    Violet: Hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up!

    Zibilee: I think you'll love it :D Happy reading!

    Amy: I hope you do!

    Amy: Don't be sorry! I'm actually glad you said that - I have no opinion on what Willis said because it's been... probably 15 years? since I watched either movie. She made me want to rewatch Miracle on 34th Street, and now you made me want to rewatch It's a Wonderful Life.

    Kathy: It would, but if it really happened I'd join the characters in the story in suspecting an alien invasion :P

    Trisha: Some of mine too! It's one of the reasons why I'm such a fan of fairy tale retellings.

    heidenkind: I have, but it's been too long for me to remember much. And I watched the Muppets Christmas Carol for the very first time last year, so I'll join you in feeling inadequate :P

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  11. This looks like a wonderful Christmas book, Ana! Thanks for reviewing it! What Christmas movies does Connie Willis mention in her list? I am really dying to know :)

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  12. Oh you little imp, you! You're going to make us all (well, at the very least, me anyway) go get this book, if just to find out what was on her list, huh? Oh okay, the book does sound pretty darn good anyway...

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  13. Love the post. Adding to my list of books to buy. I love Connie Willis.

    Merry Christmas! Melinda

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  14. Vishy: Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, The Sure Thing, Meet John Doe, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Muppets Christmas Carol, While You Were Sleeping, The Three Godfathers, The Lemon Drop Kid, White Christmas, and Little Women (90's version). I was ashamed to realise how many I had never heard of, let alone watched!

    Debi: See above :P

    Melinda: Enjoy it! I hope you had a great Christmas, and best wishes for 2012 :)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.