In the vein of Donna VanLiere's THE CHRISTMAS SHOES and Richard Paul Evans's THE CHRISTMAS BOX, bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard (THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, A THEORY OF RELATIVITY) has penned a slim but poignant Christmas story that captures perfectly the true spirit of the season. Dramas of familial crises and grief are Mitchard's trademark fare, and this slender novella of love, loss and letting go is no exception.
CHRISTMAS, PRESENT expertly blends the sad and sentimental with the uplifting and inspiring, and somehow manages to be both heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time. Elliott and his wife of 14 years, Laura, are on their way home from their anniversary celebration two days before Christmas when a searing pain in Laura's head forces an abrupt visit to the local hospital. The pain turns out to be far more than an ordinary migraine and they soon learn the horrible truth that Laura has a fatal, inoperable brain hemorrhage that leaves her with mere hours to live.
As her family gathers around from near and far on Christmas Eve, Laura shares with them loving memories of a life well-lived and she bestows on them her blessings and hopes for the future. Her good-byes to her beloved husband and three daughters are particularly fraught with emotion. However we are saved from over-the-top sentimentality thanks to Laura's serene, reflective demeanor and Mitchard's straightforward prose. Laura's legacy to her shocked and grief-stricken family is giving them the gift and promise of the future by encouraging them to live life to the fullest in her absence. The final chapter provides an uplifting respite from the novel's weighty sadness, as we glimpse into the future and see Elliott and their daughters living out Laura's dying wish for them to visit Paris.
Mitchard perfectly captures the utter heartache and devastation of losing a loved one while imparting a powerful message that we all need to be reminded of sometimes: life is best when shared with those you love, and it is these shared moments that make for a rich, satisfying existence rather than material possessions or achievements.
The only real downside to the book is its brevity, which is a dramatic departure from the meatier, lengthy books Mitchard is known for. Although it's perfect for reading in one sitting during the time-crunched holidays, the subject matter packs such an emotional punch that the abbreviated format doesn't quite do it justice and the storyline isn't as fully realized as it could have been. The result is that it feels like a mere snapshot taken from a larger novel, and the resolution feels rushed and breathless, like a race to the finish line, instead of a thought-provoking and contemplative finale that provides true closure.
Nonetheless, CHRISTMAS, PRESENT will touch your soul and warm your heart, and it makes a perfect little gift for yourself or someone you love.
Reviewed by Joni Rendon on January 21, 2011