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Onyx reviews: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Have you ever wanted to give Christmas a miss for one year? Escape the over-commercialized hustle and bustle and take a cruise in the Caribbean?

That's the decision Luther and Nora Krank make when their teenage daughter Blair joins the Peace Corps, leaving them alone during the holidays for the first time. By Thanksgiving Luther is already fed up with the insanity surrounding the season. His name may sound like "crank" but the emotions are pure Scrooge.

By his calculations, the Kranks spent $6100 on Christmas the previous year, and what do they have to show for it? Nothing. Gifts no one uses any more. Clothing bought for parties and not worn since. Hundreds of dollars on Christmas cards alone! Decorations. Parties. Food.

And nothing to show for it.

Luther arrives home from work one day armed with brochures for a ten-day cruise. By leaving on Christmas Day they can increase their savings. For less than half the cost of last year's Christmas, he and his wife can have fun in the sun, snorkel on the reefs and rest their weary bones. Blair will be back for the holidays next year - they can resume their annual traditions then. He gradually wins Nora over to the idea.

Seems simple enough.

For the next several weeks, Luther and Nora meet with disbelief, astonishment and scorn from friends, acquaintances and total strangers. The usual stream of people show up at the door looking to sell the Kranks a Christmas tree, fruit cakes, and calendars. Merchants call to find out why they haven't yet placed their greeting card order. Friends wonder why they haven't gotten invitations to the Krank's traditional Christmas Eve party.

Especially outraged are the neighbors who discover the Kranks aren't going to decorate the house this year. The residents of Hemlock Street have won contests for their joint efforts in the past. Frosty the Snowman won't adorn their rooftop this year? How selfish of them to jeopardize the street's reputation! The neighbors use guerrilla tactics. Carolers assault the Krank's house. Jingle Bells blares through their windows every evening.

Though temptation comes in many forms, the Kranks are resolved. Luther buys a tanning package so they won't have to worry about the sun on their cruise. He deliberately misses his office parties. Instead of buying a tree from the Boy Scouts, he promises to support their field trips the next summer. "We're skipping Christmas this year," he says over and over again. No one has ever heard of such a thing.

Skipping Christmas is a departure for John Grisham, who is on a yearlong hiatus from lawyer novels. He reveals a whimsical side that has only peeked out in the past. This slight novel, fewer than two hundred small pages, is a fable for modern times, an acerbic look at how out-of-control Christmas has become. The book is lyrical, but also hilarious, especially following a December 24th phone call that throws the Kranks' plans into a tizzy. Picture Ray Bradbury crossed with humorist Dave Barry.

The Kranks best-laid plans get turned upside down and the final third of the book is a rollicking return to reality. For all its superficial disdain for the festive season, the book delves briefly but poignantly into the things that are really important in life and ends with a heart-warming scene of goodwill and peace toward mankind.

Just the kind of fable we need in these trying times.

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