I was walking the other day when I passed a woman who commanded in my ear that I “Smile!” I ignored her, because I wasn't in the cheeriest of moods. She then brayed like a donkey, “God bless you and have a happy holiday!”
I sighed and considered moving along. “Fuck yourself,” I softly replied. Such confrontational joy will not be tolerated.
“Well, I never,” she said. That's not really what she said.
On reflection, I noticed that she said “holiday.” But she meant “Christmas,” a nominally Christian holiday whose most readily identifiable symbol is the fully pagan Christmas tree.
As it stands, I believe the most honest symbol is $.
Maybe it's passé to gripe about how commercial Christmas has become, but it does seem to worsen with each passing year. People get shot on Black Friday. The whole Christmas ordeal is pretty much just about shopping and blowing out credit ratings. Hanging out with family and friends and celebrating the Baby Jesus gets crammed in somewhere, by some people. It's enough to make even the most reserved cynics scoff and reach for the liquor.
But to be fair to those who verbally accost strangers in the street because they’re so enamored with the red-and-green menace, I offer Comfort & Joy by India Knight. Why anyone would want to read about someone else's holiday misery is beyond me, but here it is, in paperback and ready to rock.
Comfort & Joy opens with everywoman Clara Dunphy (no relation to the “Modern Family” family) spending ₤200 (approximately a lot of U.S. dollars) on a gift for a second-tier family member.
If I were English, my favorite Christmas symbol would be ₤.
It's hard to identify with a character with that much disposable income. Clara is a much-divorced mother of a number of children who is obsessed with celebrating Christmas. She throws a party at which everyone gets drunk. One guy breaks out the “blow.” Don't get excited, that's marijuana in England. Part of the book's charm is its English version of English. It can be head-achingly odd. They say “Happy Christmas” and eat something called “The Truffle.” It doesn't sound good. I do like the sound of a good “snogging,” however, whatever that may be.
Comfort & Joy reads like a British “Sex and the City” in that all the characters are shallow and vapid, and I keep praying for something divine and horrible to happen to all of them. It also makes the characters somewhat realistic, because, well, most people are shallow and vapid.
It's all kind of dark. Marriages crumble. Affairs of the heart begin and end. Old guys snog younger women. Heavy drinkers flirt with alcoholism pointlessly. There's the guy at the party who has one too many and ruins the vibe. So sad. Another guest finds out her dad is not her dad. Bummer. (Ah, the holiday season. They should make it longer.)
There are flashbacks. The narrative jumps forward. It's a multi-Christmas story. Inevitably, we find our protagonist having Christmas with several of her ex-husbands. That scenario shouldn't ever work. Perhaps I'm terminally Midwestern, but having all your exes in the house with booze in the dead of winter leads to the brandishing of guns, which, fortunately, are neatly gift-wrapped and waiting under the tree where I come from.
There won't, however, be any bloody climax in Comfort & Joy, despite all of the relationship issues. The English. They are so civilized.