Daddy Claus

The Forgiving Hour

Hometown Girl

In His Arms
The Shepherd's Voice

Taking Care of the Twins

A Carol for Christmas
by Robin Lee Hatcher
(Zondervan, $12.99, G) ISBN 0-310-25776-X
It seems most Grinch-like to give a Christmas-themed inspirational romance a measly one-heart rating, but anything higher would be the equivalent of an empty box, festively wrapped, under the Christmas tree. The novella A Carol for Christmas has a pretty dust jacket illustration, but thereís nothing inside worth opening.

Carol and Jonathan Burke are young newlyweds. They met in college and married four months later when Carol was eighteen and Jonathan two years older. Jonathanís father Arlen refused to pay his sonís tuition if he married so they dropped out of school and moved to Boise, Idaho, where Jonathan works as a junior manager at the family-owned Burke Department Stores. Since he failed to earn a business degree, he has to learn the business from the bottom up. He puts in long hours often leaving Carol alone in their small apartment.

As the story begins, itís a summer day, and theyíre about to go on a picnic when Jonathan is called back to the store. As he backs up the car, he runs over Carolís precious guitar. One time Carolís dream was to go to Nashville and be a singer and song-writer, but now she doesnít even have a guitar. She feels as though Jonathan has driven over her heart.

Weeks later, Thanksgiving is past, and Jonathanís hours at the store will consume most of his time until Christmas. Carol is intensely homesick for her family in Ohio. She is thrilled when her mother-in-law Ruth informs her that Travis Thompson, the famous country and western singer, is going to perform locally for a charity benefit (to raise money for the local home for unwed mothers!). He will need three female back-up singers. Carol is to be one of the singers and conduct the auditions for the other two. Carol will begin to wonder if she turned her back on a music career too quickly. What does God want her to be?

A Carol for Christmas is set in 1969 but feels years earlier. It takes its inspiration from sources such as the idealized world of ďSaturday Evening PostĒ short stories and Norman Rockwell illustrations, and the Donna Reed/Leave It to Beaver 1950's television shows. The 1960's decade was a time of social and cultural upheaval, the era known for the antiwar movement, the rise in feminism, the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution. Carol and Jonathan live in a time warp oblivious to all that.

When Jonathanís father asks if theyíre getting married because Carol is pregnant, he answers, ďCarol isnít that kind of girl.Ē (Maybe she isnít because as the G-rating indicates theirs is a fairly passionless marriage.) Thereís mention of Jonathanís draft status being affected by his dropping out of college, but there are few references to events in the time period. Itís hard to believe that they could remain so unaware of the world around them.

Worst of all, theyíre annoying Ė spineless and self-absorbed. Itís hard to feel any sympathy for them since their difficulties are primarily of their own making and they donít pursue any course Ė other than prayer Ė to improve things. Jonathanís father is apparently punishing him for dropping out of school. Heís working long hours for little pay as though he believes he deserves this treatment in order to compensate for abandoning his college studies. Youíre not a kid on an allowance anymore, guy. Demand a raise!

Carol is devastated over the destruction of her guitar. She spends all of her time in their small apartment pinching pennies, resenting Jonathanís frequent absences, missing her family. Get a job, girl, and buy your own guitar!

As is common in inspirational fiction, many of the characters lead religion-centered lives. They spend a lot of time contemplating Godís plan for them and praying for divine assistance. Arlen Burkeís obsession with business is explained that heís trying to fill the hole in his heart caused by the lack of Christ in his life.

As short stories and novellas by Carla Kelly, Mary Balogh, and other authors have proven, itís possible to write a moving Christmas tale without a high page count. With its thin plot and one-dimensional characters, however, thereís nothing much for readers in A Carol for Christmas. This one wonít bring much joy to anyoneís Christmas stocking.

--Lesley Dunlap

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