Family, church and traditions galore surround Marianne Wallace’s holidays, and Christmas is no exception. From cutting down a fresh tree to indulging in Christmas clam chowder, the holiday rings true with creating family memories. But her children have become adults, and she’s had to drift with the winds of change. As another Christmas nears, Marianne’s son reminds her of a very special holiday season that altered not only the Wallaces’ Christmas, but also the perspective of an entire town.
It begins with a joyous occurrence nearly too good to be true: Marianne’s youngest son joining the high school football team. While this may not seem monumental to the average person, to Marianne it’s huge. A die-hard football fan, she’d been sure that at least one of her three sons would don a helmet and shoulder pads as she cheered wildly from the stands. But one by one, her hopes were dashed until only the youngest, Kevin, is left. It is soon evident, however, that Kevin is focused on very little besides video games. When he joins the team his senior year, Marianne is ecstatic. And when the school mascot, a trout, has a heart attack near the end of a winning season, Marianne steps in. Thus begins the year of the fish.
Little does Marianne know as she squeezes into a too narrow, too tall fish costume that her husband is busy volunteering her as the church’s hospitality chairperson. In other words, she is to be in charge of the annual tea --- a major event in her small town. Marianne shines as a mascot but finds herself floundering in the hospitality arena. The older church ladies on her committee want the tea to conform to age-old traditions: the same foods, fancy china, decorations and hymns. But the younger women want something new. Stuck in the middle, Marianne decides to serve her family’s clam chowder, a decision that equally offends everyone.
When her team wins the “big game” and reporters want to interview the “trout,” Marianne mentions the church tea, saying it is open to everyone and announces they’ll be serving soup. Her words are misinterpreted, and the next day’s newspaper announces her church will be running a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve. Already unpopular with the church ladies, Marianne becomes a walking target for snubs and glares, causing her to call the whole thing off. She had asked God for help, researched the true meaning of hospitality, and done her best…but it was all in vain. To make matters worse, her grown children are calling one by one to say that they will not be able to come home for Christmas.
Alone on Christmas Eve, Marianne packs up a holiday dinner for her trout predecessor, who is still recovering from the heart attack he suffered on the football field. But as she heads over to deliver it, she discovers a Christmas miracle. God had been taking her down a far better path than the one she had chosen.
THE GREAT CHRISTMAS BOWL is a funny, touching, heartstring-tugging kind of story that is wonderful to read and must be shared. This is the kind of book that will get passed from daughter to mom, friend to friend. Susan May Warren truly possesses the heart of a storyteller: her characters are likable, flawed and very real, with natural-sounding dialogue and relatable emotions. She gathers up her favorite things --- family, Christmas and football --- and blends them beautifully into a sweet novella with a message that sparkles brighter than tree lights.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on August 31, 2009