Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Four!
Happy New Year!
The first day of the new year is also the Eighth Day of Christmas, so I'm going to stick with the seasonal theme. Our first setting of 2011 shows us what happens when the warp of a place and the woof of such a season meet in a story. Say what you like about cliched Christmas-set reads (and in particular, cliched Christmas-set Romances): I'll still eat them all up with a spoon. =P
And if that admission doesn't make me too uncool to hang around, remember to join us next week, 8 January, as we ponder the future with our "Worlds of Tomorrow" Challenge!
The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman
by Louise Plummer
Fleur crouched over to me to look out. "It's still snowing." She said it kind of breathlessly, as if snow were magic.
I turned to look. "We're going to have the perfect Christmas," I said. "It's supposed to snow for the next two days."
"A perfect Christmas." She seemed truly mesmerised by the falling snow. "That's why I came," she said softly.
"For the snow?"
"Yes." Then she seemed to change her mind. "Well, more than that, actually . . . I've heard Bjorn and Rich talk about their families, and they, you know . . . Well, their families sounded so traditional and so--" She reached for the right word. "So wholesome." She glanced at me. "I wanted to spend Christmas around people like that."
Ah, if I could step into the pages of this book and spend Christmas with the Bjorkman family, I'd be even more mesmerised than California girl Fleur St. Germaine. This novel has been one of my favourite holiday reads since I first read it in 1998. Call me a sentimental fool, but I'm a sucker for a Perfect Christmas myself, and this book seriously delivers.
As soon as the cast of characters is complete, they go shopping for a Christmas tree. On the way to the lot in Grand Avenue (a real place which I have now elevated to mythical status), they sing O Tannenbaum in the car. In German, mind you: those who went to the local high school had great German lessons. They bring the spruce home and trim it, and then--because you can never have enough music--they play more Christmas carols on some old wooden soprano recorders, other school souvenirs.
The next day, the temperature drops below zero and they all decide to go skating on Lake Como. (If places could go in a pantheon . . .) The ice is packed: it must be a popular St. Paul tradition. Our characters share a thermos of hot cocoa.
Then there's the traditional Swedish smorgasboard that the Bjorkman family enjoys every Christmas Eve. The table is set with silver and the fine china, and a wreath worthy of the Festival of Lights is suspended over the dining room table. By this time, Fleur is so enchanted that she convinces Mrs. Bjorkman to write a cookbook--one with not just the recipes but also instructions for making the homemade decorations. The Bjorkmans might take their picture perfect holidays for granted, but Fleur, who has had to cross the country to find one, does not.
Now pencil in Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul and a big New Year's Eve party at a huge mansion on Lake Minnetonka. Is that a full experience or what?
And now I feel as if I've taken you through the whole story, although there is nothing here about the actual plot: the background is that important to the novel. Readers in a position to identify with Fleur, who discovers everything here one day at a time, could accuse me of packing this post with spoilers. But Plummer's story is so rich with beautiful details, including sounds, tastes and even smells. And Christmas at the Bjorkman household is a wonderful feast for the starved senses.
There is one point in the novel when one character asks another where he would choose to live, if he had all the money in the world. The latter doesn't even have to think about it: he knows he'd stick with St. Paul, Minnesota. And if it's as wonderful the rest of the year as it is during Christmas, then he's one of the smartest characters in the story.
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I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D
This Week's Other Locus:
John Bellairs' Childermass Clock and Death Room @ What Kate's Reading
Image Source: The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer