Friday, December 10, 2010

In Search of New England Holiday Reading

Sea gulls and a lobster roll in the middle of December.

I’d prefer a novel with these elements but – to be honest – I’ll settle for a cable movie. And I’d prefer an older novel off a library shelf but I’ll settle for a paperback from an aisle in a giant food store.

I know the flavor of the narrative to which I am ready to respond in these weeks approaching Christmas. Somewhere other than poetry and scripture and homily reflections, I am willing to be gently tricked into reflection. With the aid of character and plot and setting, I can ease myself into a consideration of life’s changes and time’s passing and unexpected disappointment and nagging hope.

Let the reader of the first page follow a car through late afternoon village roads.

Let the camera pan and tilt up to a background of gray waves off a New England coast.

There should be a simple house on a side street, a family home. The headlights of the car briefly illuminate a realtor’s sign in the front yard, and then they go dark. Sound cues: the click of a key in the front door, the cry of sea gulls suddenly muffled as the door is pulled closed.

A man in his forties stands alone in a hallway. He lifts his face and catches the familiar smells that intrude on him from the darkened rooms. At the moment he turns on a floor lamp, you see him from afar, paper bag in hand, framed by a kitchen doorway.

Do you know where the story is going? Can’t you almost tell?

Maybe this novel, this film won’t use flashback – visual or auditory – although that would be an easy way to suggest what used to be the life of this home, a Christmas in this family, the feel of growing up as a tow-headed boy of eight. Maybe you won’t see or hear anything about the funeral of this man’s father within the past year.

I prefer to catch our hero at chapter’s end seated at the kitchen table, half-finished lobster roll in a nest of crumpled deli paper, when the door bell chimes. Or the text message arrives. Or the wall phone rings.

I want to think I know what he would say next.

I want to think there are holiday messages I know almost by heart.

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