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Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Casual Critic — Richard Paul Evans' A Christmas Box

Though it comes close to being overly sentimental, A Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans holds enough of a
story to be an entertaining holiday read. It deserves credit for avoiding the typical Christmas morning happy ending, perhaps even more than I’m willing to give it, but doesn’t offer anything that would be too surprising to a reader who sits down to read a book with a plot surrounding the holiday season.

Richard and Keri, along with their young daughter Jenna, move into the widow Parkin’s mansion as caretakers. They soon realize the elderly woman was looking for a family to share life with as much as to fill any needs she had around the house. Richard’s discovery of a box filled with letters to a lost love of Parkin, combined with her being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, leads the driven-to-suceed Richard to learn lessons about the first gift of Christmas.

Before rolling your eyes too much, there’s some valuable elements here that won’t be completely predictable. Richard isn’t a perfect narrator — meaning the reader sees his flaws before he does — so his counterpart in Parkin, who could’ve been seen at least at first as an annoying old woman, offers a nice balance. Her story, too, though no shocker, won’t be completely apparent early on. And, again, the ending isn’t the all-is-wonderful type expected in such stories.

On the other hand, the mention of teared-stained pages of a Bible is just one example of too much sentimentality. There were also a few missed opportunities to create a bit of tension that this novel desperately needed. Afterall, Richard is a bit of a snoop, and Parkin is fairly free with her advice. Yet, the two never really irritate each other. And, though its learned without too typical of an ending, Richard’s lesson isn’t exactly a new one.

A Christmas Box isn’t quite worth making a yearly tradition or anything. But, if you like Christmas stories, this one’s more than just entertaining.

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