Book09: "The Christmas List" by Richard Paul Evans
Trust me when I say that being away from family and friends during the big, family-oriented holidays blows. This perpetual suckness is worsened when you spend it 1) in a war zone, and 2) in a Muslim country where the mere mentioning of Christ and his yearly birthday party are equal to spitting in someone’s face (just joking; nationals are mostly indifferent). Since I cannot be serenaded 24/7 by Christmas jams on the radio or in the mall, and I dont have the option of watching “Bad Santa” on FX or spending twenty four straight hours watching “The Christmas Story” on TBS, I decided I needed to fill myself with the Christmas cheer in a more accessible-to-Afghanistan media form: bookage. As such, I found author Richard Paul Evans. For something like the last ten years, Mr. Evans has written a Christmas-oriented book, all of which seem to have positive reviews from online readers. After sifting through Evans’ catalog of written Christmas works, I settled on this year’s work: “The Christmas List”.
“The Christmas List” by Richard Paul Evans is, for all intents and purposes, a modern day re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. The story revolves around James Kier, a wealthy business man from Utah who has been a very bad boy, particularly to those closest to him and other business associates/partners (stop me if you’ve heard this one before…well, except for the Utah part). As with most Christmas stories, this is a tale of redemption, and Mr. Kier is in need of it this holiday season. However, unlike other retellings of Dickens’ classic (i.e. “Scrooged”), “The Christmas List” focuses less on the attempt to make Kier see the error of his ways and more on his actual path to redemption, which, unlike the other works, takes longer than one magical night.
Despite desperately wanting to enjoy this book, I did not. I was looking for something to get me into the holiday spirit, even if it was cheesy as hell, but this book did not do it for me (and that’s coming from someone who enjoys the Governator and Sinbad in “Jingle All the Way”). Each scene was given its own chapter, a number of which were short, some spanning no more than four pages. This gave the book a very screenplay-like feel, and not a good one. The characters were also very bland. I thought they were one-dimensional with no depth or believable self-conflict, and when (some) of them do change their outlook at the end of the book, it’s unconvincing. And no character is more guilty of this than the protagonist, James Kier.
This being the story of James Kier’s redemption during the Christmas season, he does change, but as I said of the other characters, it’s unconvincing. The first hinting of Kier is through his obituary (I wont explain now), and then through other characters’ discussion of him. Both paint Kier as a ruthless business man with no remorse for fair play or the outcomes of others; his only focus is gaining more money for himself. That works. It’s what I expected. However, when we meet Kier, he doesn’t fully embody the evil business man persona others have painted him as. In some early scenes, he seems downright reluctant to be that evil (his lawyer seems more heartless than he does). While this is a hinting at the “he wasn’t always this evil/there’s still a good man in there” play, I would have preferred for him to be an absolutely disgusting human being, which would have made the change even more significant.
Additionally, his reason for change was also entirely unconvincing. Thought to be dead by the public, Kier reads his obituary online as well as the comments section of the article. Suffice it to say, most every poster was left searching for something positive to say about Kier, and this is what convinced him to try to change his ways. Now, just like the “there’s still a good man in there” play I mentioned earlier, I believe this was Evans’ attempt to show the reader that redemption and change from bad to good does not just happen overnight, and may even happen for the wrong reason. It’s a gradual process that takes time to fully realize, and that’s true. I just don’t think Evans was able to express that metamorphosis well.
Small note: I was also a bit disappointed that there weren’t any supernatural elements to the story. “A Christmas Carol” and most retellings of the story involved the Ghosts of Christmas Past/Present/Future in some capacity, and I think that supernatural/metaphoric representation was part of the fun of the story. That element was missing from “The Christmas List”, and my enjoyment suffered for it.
Evans’ latest Christmas novel, though recommended by other readers, did not fill me with Christmas cheer. The writing was elementary, the characters uninteresting, and the dialogue bland. The only enjoyable passages were Evans’ description of Christmas atmosphere, but these were few and far between, and ultimately not able to save this book. I can’t speak for his other books, but after reading “The Christmas List”, I’m wary of trying Evans’ other books. I’d have a better time finding my holiday cheer in a movie, perhaps one where Zooey Deschanel sings a Christmas classic with Will Ferrell. In fact, I think I’ll do that now. Merry Christmas.