Advent Calendar

Shena MacKay, Author Moyer Bell $19.95 (159p) ISBN 978-1-55921-211-3
Mackay's star has been rising here after fine reviews for last year's Booker nominee, The Orchard on Fire. This early novel, published in England in 1971, also displays the supple economy of her prose, a style that accommodates a constant play of precisely observed and startlingly vivid images. Its humor is macabre, its setting depressing and its view of the human condition grim. Nevertheless, readers in tune with Mackay's dour take on the world will undoubtedly enjoy her characters' comic misadventures. In the opening pages, a butcher's assistant loses a finger, which is ground into minced meat that's accidentally eaten by feckless, chronically unemployed John Wood, who is about to move his long-suffering wife and two children into his uncle's cold, dark and dirty house for the duration of Advent--the 25 days from December 1st to Christmas. The story is told in a series of vignettes in which John, his reluctantly adulterous wife and several other unhappy people--all enduring poverty, dull jobs, wretched lodgings and all sorts of emotional deprivations, humiliations and pain--grope their way through the holiday. Grisly accidents multiply, and so do bloody and feculent images: an abbatoir, ""gutters running over with blood""; filthy working-class kitchens; even a sick goat, brought into the house to recuperate, does not seem out of place in this grimy milieu. The story is a thin line away from slapstick, with each of the hapless characters caught in embarrassingly squalid but quite funny situations. Though it ends with a minor Christmas ""miracle,"" Mackay's acerbic last word leaves no doubt about what she thinks the future has in store for her characters and the rest of humanity. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 158 pages - 978-0-224-00527-2
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