About the book: If you only know the Christmas-play scene from Little Women, you only know one dimension of Louisa May Alcott’s several Christmas stories.
No, actually, you’ve pretty much got it. This comprehensive collection reveals that basically, what Christmas meant in the writings of this American icon involved a virtuous but poor family who decide to do good unto others rather than wallowing in self-pity. As a result, they’re rewarded beyond their wildest dreams, typically bursting into tears of joy when an unexpected benefactor hooks them up with a bunch of presents and fruit and the like.
(Of course, even at Christmas, it wouldn’t do to rise too far above your station. A couple of stories end with hardworking servants being recognized for their labors, but Alcott clarifies that they’re still going to be servants. For the rest of their lives.)
It gets same-y, but does perk up when things get a little weird. The second story, “Rosa’s Tale,” turns on the fact that “all dumb animals are endowed with speech for one hour after midnight on Christmas Eve, in memory of the animals about the manger when the blessed Child was born.” Did you know that? Belinda discovers its truth when Rosa the old horse takes the whole damn hour to share her life story.
If that’s your cup of tea, you can subsequently skip straight to “Becky’s Christmas Dream,” in which poor pitiful Becky gets Christmas Eve pep talks from — wait for it — a cat, a clock, a kettle, and the freaking fire.
Another highlight is “A Country Christmas,” where Alcott dips into Jane Austen territory with a romantic social satire contrasting a worldly writer and a society belle with a simple but sexy Civil War veteran.
Sophie paused a moment on the threshold to look at him, for she always enjoyed the sight of this stalwart cousin, whom she likened to a Norse viking, with his fair hair and beard, keen blue eyes, and six feet of manly height, with shoulders that looked broad and strong enough to bear any burden.
Mixing the gene pool…who needs it?
About the audiobook: TBQH, audiobook narrator Susie Berneis doesn’t do much to undercut the stories’ more cloying aspects. The Little Women story comes near the audiobook’s end, by which point it’s tough to take the lisping Amy. If her ultracute style appeals, however, Berneis has a whole recording of that book.
Most Christmasy moment: “Mrs. Podgers’s Teapot” turns on a contrived premise, but it’s impossible not to be moved by this story of two mature adults embracing a love they’ve always known. Of course there also has to be a poor orphan involved, but once he gets squared away with a stocking, the couple have a long-overdue conversation that leads to a quiet revelation.
Least Christmasy moment: Alcott was a wartime writer, and…well, let’s just say not everyone makes it out of this one alive. “A Hospital Christmas” conveys a sense of what recuperation was like in an era when medicine was primitive and travel was difficult. The fact that the cause could not have been more important adds poignance to the soldiers’ sacrifices.