A family's holiday tragedy becomes a powerful lesson about love in this moving Christmas story from bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard.
No heartstring goes untugged in this slim but moving Christmas story from award-winning journalist, screenwriter, bestselling novelist and children's book author Mitchard (Twelve Times Blessed; The Rest of Us; The Most Wanted). It's December 23, and Elliott Banner and his wife, Laura, are celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary with a romantic dinner at a good Italian restaurant and a performance of the Cirque du Soleil. Soon after the show, their car breaks down in a Boston tunnel, and Elliott's beloved is stricken with a crippling headache that sends them to a nearby hospital. After a physical exam and an MRI, compassionate, fatherly Dr. Campanile advises them to call the family together; Laura has a brain hemorrhage. "Now, how can I say this It is too late. She will die, and I am sorry beyond an ability to tell you." Laura has 24 hours to live, which takes them to Christmas Eve. The clan gathers: Laura and Elliott's three young daughters, Annie, Rory and Amelia; Laura's mother, Miranda; her two sisters, Suzanne and Angela; and her feckless brother, Stephen. After a loving recap of a life well lived (including a surprise secret), everyone gets a final hug and a kiss from Laura. What could easily have become a quicksand of sentimentality is saved by Mitchard's straightforward writing, which is poignant rather than mawkish, sometimes mordant and, despite the theme of the story, surprisingly humorous. Laura does die, something the reader knows will happen from the very beginning. Her death is undeniably sad, but a final chapter offers the bereft Elliott and his three daughters the Christmas present Laura promised would be theirs: hope for the future. (Nov.) Forecast: Mitchard's books are usually bestsellers, and though there is competition from other uplifting Christmas tales (Richard Paul Evans's A Perfect Day [Forecasts, Aug. 25]; Eric Jerome Dickey's Naughty or Nice [Forecasts, Oct. 6]), her fans will likely buy enough of these for gift giving to boost it onto some lists at least for the holiday season. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Christmas, Present by Jacquelyn Mitchard
For weeks, he'd pestered himself over the fact that he couldn't remember whether this anniversary was the fourteenth or fifteenth. He would later regret the silliness, the mulling. He might have spent more time with the girls, taken the week off from work, made enormous resolutions and gestures of consummate intimacy.
Still, even in hindsight, a fourteenth anniversary sounded routine, neither a rung on the ladder midway toward a golden sunset nor an observation blushingly fresh and new.
A fourteenth anniversary, like, perhaps, a forty-second birthday, didn't seem to demand so much commemoration.
But one more year would be a landmark! Somehow, to have survived in relative peace and periodic delight for a decade and a half-through the arid, sandy-eyed numbness of sleep deprivation after the girls' births, the unexpected and brutal death of his mother, the long, anxious week waiting for the results of the withdrawal of a microscopic bite of tissue from Laura's breast, Annie's meningitis (ten days during which neither of them finished a single meal, together or separately)-seemed to confer a certain status on this marriage. A marriage of substance, which few of their friends could boast. Fifteen years of marriage in full would cry out for a slam-bang celebration. A high school reunion equivalent, a renewal of vows with Laura at the Wee Kirk o' the Heather in Las Vegas, Prada boots, costing half a week's pay, or a (very brief) cruise to the West Indies.
He thought, by using a ruse, he might question his mother-in-law, Miranda, inventing some twaddle about checking Laura's sizes (men being universally forgiven, even coddled, for ignorance in such matters). But he could not frame a question that would elicit the date from Laura's cool and sharp-eyed mother. She was a busy realtor, a woman of few words except where they concerned post-and-beam construction or Carrera marble in the master bath. She would not burble forth, "And that was the last time Helen and David went anywhere together as husband and wife ... " or "I'd just bought that silver Volvo ... " or "Do you remember how adorable Laurie's sister Angela looked; she was only a junior ... "-remarks that could be checked against a family timeline.
Their wedding album had been no help.
It was inscribed with their names, the month and day-but, at Laura's behest, not the year. For the same reason, the photos all were in black-and-white. "Color makes pictures look dated. I want this to be always new," she'd said.
They were married December 23, and all the women, including Laura, wore red velvet, the men gray morning clothes, with top hats-even without the help of color film, he could remember the splash they all made, like bright cardinals and sparrows against the snow. The photographer spread huge sheets of clear plastic beneath an evergreen bower for outdoor shots. Laura peeked from under the hood of a wool merino cape trimmed with rabbit fur, like a character from Little Women.
The photos were timeless; not even a single car with an identifiable grille or body shape was visible.
He might have asked his own mother outright, and she would have felt no impulse to chide him. She would have been moved by his diligence.
He had missed his mother, more or less constantly, for two years, with the persistence of a low-grade fever that spiked in spring or at moments of acute need or tenderness. Laura resembled his mother in no way; she had different habits, preferences, and talents. But his wife still somehow recalled Amy, in common sense, in pure spirit. Laura still teased him about their first date: He had confessed he might never marry at all, never find a woman the equal of his mother. Amy had died of ovarian cancer, hadn't even lived to hear Amelia, the daughter they had named for her, say her grandmother's name.