Books
12:48 pm
Tue December 4, 2007

The Holiday Season

Michael Knight, of Mobile, has written a pair of novellas about the holidays. One, the title story, covers Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the other, "Love at the End of the Year," New Year's Eve, the party that always disappoints.

Ah, the holidays. Family. Food. Good times. We look forward to the gatherings and remember them fondly. Sometimes maybe more fondly than they deserve. Often, they disappoint. Expectations too high?

Michael Knight, of Mobile, has written a pair of novellas about the holidays. One, the title story, covers Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the other, "Love at the End of the Year," New Year's Eve, the party that always disappoints.

The first, and I think better, of the two is narrated by Frank, the younger brother of Ted. Frank is a marginally successful actor, living in a rented room in Mobile and touring with the Shakespeare Express. Ted is a lawyer with a big new house on the bay at Point Clear. Ted's big break came when he found a loophole enabling an insurance company not to pay damages after a disastrous train wreck with fourteen people killed. "The verdict bankrupted Black Belt Rail, putting over seven hundred jobs at risk . . . and preventing nine widows, two widowers and three sets of grieving parents from collecting a dime." We should all be sure to read the fine print.

Their dad is a retired twelve-term Mobile city councilman and a good guy in a tough spot. Mom died of cancer three years ago, and Dad can't move on, can't stop grieving, drinks too much, and, even though a neighbor lady is interested in him, thinks a new love would be infidelity. "I don't want to stop loving your mother," he tells Frank.

Frank spends Thanksgiving with his dad, who refuses to change the family tradition and celebrate at Ted's luxurious new home. At Christmas, Frank stays with Ted, his truly nice wife, Marcy, and their adorable twin girls who actually do get ponies for Christmas, actually do fall off, and actually are forced, tearfully, to get back on. Ted is stern, pompous, right about everything, and generally unhappy.

Knight has captured all of this beautifully?the dad's emotional paralysis, right down to the piles of unread New Yorkers, the father-son relationships and brother-to-brother relationships in all their complications of misunderstanding, parental expectations, sibling rivalry, love between males unexpressed, all of it. Dad actually is prouder of Ted than Frank, and loves him more, but Ted doesn't see it, thinks Dad can't be pleased. As the narrator tells us, "there is no clear-cut resolution." There can't be. It's family. It just goes on, and we all do the best we can.

New Year's Eve, on the other hand, is about not family love but what we might, generously, call romantic love. Using a large cast of characters and tracing their movements on New Year's Eve in twenty-eight short chapters, Knight shows us varieties of desire and attraction, loss, loneliness, disappointment and despair, from the teenage boy Evan, who is watching porn on his computer, to Katie Butter, who, we are told in the opening sentence, has decided, this evening, to leave her husband, to thirteen-year-old Lulu, who runs away from home to be with her dolt of a boyfriend Ike Tiptoe, to Miss Anita, Evan's babysitter, who misses, truly, her deceased husband, McGreggor, to Esmerelda, who is being stood up by a blind date and will have no one to kiss at midnight.

The sketches of these characters and more, including Professor Urquardt, who is having an affair with a much younger man, his student, are all deft, and all different. The various characters, many of whom are at the party or are supposed to be, are connected of course by their shared humanity, but also in other surprising ways, of which they are not themselves aware.

Just as we never give up on family love, however difficult, so also we keep on trying for romantic love, especially on December 31 between 11 and midnight with, in both cases, an enduring hopefulness.

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