cover image The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree

Julie Salamon, J. Weber. Random House Inc, $12.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45253-9

Trying not to behave like Scrooge may be a book critic's most difficult task this Christmas season. This thin holiday fable is based on a true incident, but it is saturated with sentimentality. Narrated by the unnamed, curmudgeonly chief gardener of Rockefeller Center, the tale concerns his annual search for the tree whose lighting heralds the holiday season in Manhattan. When the narrator says that he looks for a tree that has ""character,"" whose ""beauty comes from the inside and not just the outside,'' we know we must swallow some anthropomorphic whimsy. He discovers just such a tree on the grounds of a convent in New Jersey, but Sister Anthony, who has a special relationship with the magnificent Norway Spruce (she calls it simply Tree, and talks to it), is loath to let it be cut down. She tells the narrator the story of her life: how, as a lonely orphan child she was brought to the convent, where the tree became her only friend. When she decides to make the supreme sacrifice, her message--that we must look for beauty even when life is hard--melts the crusty old man's heart. Former Wall Street Journal reporter Saloman, who wrote such incisive books as The Devil's Candy and The Net of Dreams, seems to have overdosed on saccharine. Random House audio. (Oct.)