cover image The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales

The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales

Marian Keyes, Stanley Bing, Mike Albo. HarperCollins Publishers, $14.95 (207pp) ISBN 978-0-06-083811-9

While everyone has his or her own holiday nightmare-the overcooked turkey, the undercooked ham, the Santa who drank too much, the worst gift given or received-we still love hearing about other people's disasters. Mice eating up the lovingly home-baked tree ornaments; kids dragging you through the Christmas Loft Holiday Emporium's ""holiday fumes-a cross between Pine-Sol, Atomic Fireballs, and clove cigarettes""; even ""the Christmas I found out I wasn't Christian""-it's all so much fun when it's happening to someone else. After reading John Marchese's saga of a ""dry serial church-going"" Christmas with his born-again prospective in-laws, or Cynthia Kaplan's ""Jew's Christmas in Vermont"" with dead deer splattered all over the family car, our own holiday problems seem more manageable. About half the stories have a Jewish slant (such as those by Valerie Frankel, Binnie Kirshenbaum and Amy Krouse Rosenthal), and all but one (Anne Giardini's depressing tale of her dying mother) play on the humor of a disastrous holiday experience. The best one-Ann Patchett's ""Birthdays""-avoids the cliches (how Jews do or don't deal with Christmas, the excesses of Christmas kitsch, etc.) and tells how her stepfather mangled each of the family's Christmases. This would make a nifty gift for the Scrooge on book buyers' lists.