“Skipping Christmas” is a short novel ( 3hours 42 minutes / 256 pages ) yet, by the time I was halfway through, I was tempted to skip the whole thing.
The book is about the tribulations of the Kranks, a middle-class American couple in their fifties, who decide that, as their daughter is away from home for the first time, they will skip Christmas and spend the money on a cruise instead.
I struggled in the first part of the book because Luther Krank is so hard to like. He is a man who resents spending money on Christmas but doesn’t dare stop because his neighbours will disapprove. He is shallow, cowardly, seems to have little emotional connection to family or friends, is unconsciously racist and complacently privileged. Krank’s motives for skipping Christmas are venal and hard to embrace. The way he treats his neighbours as he executes his plan is unpleasant and childish. After a while, I began to realise that, if he got what he deserved, there would be no happy ending.
Even though it was first published in 2001, it feels more like something from a 1970’s sitcom. The neighbours are ruled by what others might think of them. The women plan charity events but don’t have a job. The men play “my salary is bigger than yours”. Christmas parties are a licence for married Partners in the firm to get drunk and grope “the homeliest secretaries”. When a daughter in one of the families declares her intent to marry a foreigner, her parents are relieved that his skin is not as dark as they expected. Surely this can’t be modern-day suburban America?
There is a twist in the second half of the book that rescues the story from completely failing and redeems at least some of the characters but this is not “A Wonderful Life” but rather “A Life Slightly Less Awful”.
It didn’t fill me with Christmas cheer but it did make me very glad that I don’t live in the Krank’s neighbourhood.