Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "The Christmas Miracle" by Rebecca Curtis

This week's story, "The Christmas Miracle," by Rebecca Curtis, comes from the Dec. 23 & 30th issue. In it, a chronically-ill woman goes to stay with her dysfunctional (but hey, whose isn't?) family on the outskirts of Revelstoke, BC, as small town in the Canadian Rockies. Between taking her I.V. drips, having bacteria-induced hallucinations, keeping her creepy, pedophile uncle away from her pre-teenage nieces, keeping the house cats from being eaten by the coyotes lurking at the edge of the home's lawn, and embarrassing her sister's house guests with her filter-less observations, the main character manages to see things about her own life a little more clearly.

With a name like "The Christmas Miracle," I was tempted to keep my puke bucket next to the bed while I read this. However, in this year of our Lord 2014, I supposed I had to know that no magazine would be so daring, anachronistic, or just plain stupid as to publish a genuinely schmaltzy Christmas story called "The Christmas Miracle." That'd be like trying to sneak a Greyhound Bus through the security line at La Guardia airport. Would not happen. Could not happen. 

I was delighted and satisfied, instead, to read a truly twisted, gruesome, cringe-inducing family story, complete with creepy uncles, bacterial diseases, mutilated house pets, embarrassing holiday gettogether's, sibling envy and, in general, the good old-fashioned dysfunction that ensues when you (quite unnaturally) smash together for a weekend people from the same family who see each other once a year or less. Family Christmas weekends are Ground Zero for dysfunction; they are the Super Bowls of dysfunction. "The Christmas Miracle" captures that dysfunction through the eyes of one of its chief perpetrators.

The main character is an adult child. Her bacterial illness has kept her from advancing responsibly into mature adulthood, and so she takes the place of a teenager: brooding in the corner, saying awkward things to the guests, trying to exert her influence where and when she can but usually failing. However, she has the mental capacity and observational powers of an adult, and it's through that lens that she writes her "letter" to a friend about this weekend.

The "miracle," I suppose, is that one of the cats actually survives a coyote attack. On another level, the "miracle" is that the main character comes to the stark realization that she is what she is, a child of winter and a "plodder" as she says at the end of the letter. Not quite an O'Connor-esque plot button, but enough to put a cap on the story and give us an emotional payoff.

This story is worth reading because, primarily, it's entertaining. It also holds a mirror up to family life in a way that, even if your family is relatively "normal" reflects certain truths about families and why we put up with each other and when we should not have to put up with each other. Definitely worth a read.

Comments

sloopie72 said…
"I was delighted and satisfied, instead, to read a truly twisted, gruesome, cringe-inducing family story, complete with creepy uncles, bacterial diseases, mutilated house pets,..."

Yep, now THERE'S the Christmas spirit for you!

I started out hating this story, then ended up really respecting it. I do think she buried the fictional equivalent of the lede, though, in dead cats and funny uncles and weird diseases. Though this is the direction, I suppose: multitasking fiction, ADHD prose.


Karen Carlson

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…