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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.


Anonymous 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

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