As guilty pleasures go, this is one that if I don’t read during the holidays, I have to wait a whole year before I’ll pick it up. I didn’t feel like waiting this time, so I read it the day after Christmas, which turned out to be pretty good timing.
The premise: technically, this isn’t an explanation, but rather the inspiration for the book, straight from Evans’s own mouth: When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Johnson, gave our class the intriguing (if somewhat macabre) assignment of writing our own obituaries. Oddly, I don’t remember much of what I wrote about my life, but I do remember how I died: in first place on the final lap of the Daytona 500. At the time, I hadn’t considered writing as an occupation, a field with a remarkably low on-the-job casualty rate.
What intrigues me most about Mrs. Johnson’s assignment is the opportunity she gave us to confront our own legacy. How do we want to be remembered? That question has motivated our species since the beginning of time: from building pyramids to putting our names on skyscrapers.
As I began to write this book, I had two objectives: First, I wanted to explore what could happen if someone read their obituary before they died and saw, firsthand, what the world really thought of them. Their legacy.
Second, I wanted to write a Christmas story of true redemption. One of my family’s holiday traditions is to see a local production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it (perhaps a dozen), but it still thrills me to see the change that comes over Ebenezer Scrooge as he transforms from a dull, tight-fisted miser into a penitent, “giddy-as-aschoolboy” man with love in his heart. I always leave the show with a smile on my face and a resolve to be a better person. That’s what I wanted to share with you, my dear readers, this Christmas — a holiday tale to warm your season, your homes, and your hearts.
Review style: spoilers, but really, this is the kind of book you know how’ll it end once you start reading it. If spoilers bother you, just skip to the “My Rating” section at the bottom of the review.
So I’m going to be honest: Evans is a guilty pleasure because while he writes stories that pull at your heartstrings, they aren’t necessarily written very well. He breaks a lot of writing “rules,” the stuff that we’re all taught in the first workshop NOT to do. Example (that’s paraphrased from the book, save for the adjective and the verb):
He angrily threw his coffee-drenched cell phone to the floor.
Well, duh. If you’re throwing something you shouldn’t be throwing to begin with, say a cell phone instead of a baseball, isn’t it obvious you’re angry? Especially when the context of the scene is that Kier, the main character, just dumped coffee all over his cellphone and just discovered it isn’t working?
Yeah, that kind of thing. Evans also slips and slides out of people’s heads at whim, gives us random POVs of people we don’t need (especially at the beginning), and everything is too clear-cut. People are either good or misguided (notice, in this case, I didn’t say bad), and therefore need to be redeemed. This book, fortunately, got the reader out of Kier’s selfish POV and got him started on the transformation pretty quickly, because otherwise, I’m not sure how long I would’ve lasted. My tolerance for this kind of story is fading fast, even if Evans is a guilty pleasure, so we’ll see what happens when he releases his next book.
This book, however, holds no surprises. No real emotional punch either. I mean, I’ve seen this story before, from the aforementioned A Christmas Carol all the way through to the television series My Name is Earl. Person realizes life has been a waste and vows to make better. Person makes list and crosses off each person as he helps them.
At least Evans didn’t make each list item easy. There are some people Kier can’t fix or apologize to, and that, at least, is realistic. But the characters never really leave their two-dimensional frames, making it hard to feel anything at all for this book, even when the big stuff happens, like the death of his wife.
Really, there’s not much else left to say. It’s a very fast read, in part due to Evans’s style and in part due to the formatting of the book: there’s a LOT of white space, a lot of blank pages in this sucker.
Wish I’d Borrowed It: I was a little optimistic since I enjoyed last year’s offering, Grace, but The Christmas List is fell flat and stale for me. Too familiar, with two-dimensional characters and my inner-editor demanding a red pen to mark up the book (which I wouldn’t do, but I was distracted). Still, it’s a fast read, and if you enjoy inspirational Christmas stories, this is right up your alley. I personally recommend Evans’s earlier work, particularly his debut The Christmas Box for anyone who’s a book worm, as that’s the book that made me fall in love. His overall career though has been full of ups and downs since then, and right now, I think we’re on more of a downhill slope.
Cover Commentary: quite Christmas-y: very red and very green. It fits the look of the rest of his books, so I can’t complain as far as continuity goes, but I can’t say I care for this particular one.
Next up: my last read for 2009: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews