The Ecco Book of Christmas Stories: Edited by Alberto Manguel
“Even at their best, Christmas stories [are] no more than wish-fulfillment dreams…And yet how [can] anyone propose to write an unsentimental Christmas story?” asks the narrator of Paul Auster’s “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story.” Introducing The Ecco Book of Christmas Stories, Auster’s short story recounts the tale of Auggie Wren, whose well-meaning intentions to return a lost wallet lead an elderly woman into mistaking Wren for her grandson come to visit her on Christmas.
Delightfully obscure and strange, Auggie’s story begs to be taken for truth, although his “wicked grin” at the end of its telling suggests otherwise. This first story mimics the larger idea presented in The Ecco Book: whether the stories are fiction or memoir, “as long as there’s one person to believe it, there’s no story that can’t be true.”
Enlivening the pages of the collection are characters who breathe both reality and ordinariness into a season that so often means only gifts and “plum pudding, mince pieces, mousses, [and] puddles of melted ice cream.” There’s Charlie, the elevator operator in New York City who “[has] fourteen dinners spread out on the table and floor of the locker room,” all conned out of the residents in his building; a young man in Johannesburg for whom “Christmas Eve [is] a drunken riot”; and the teenage girl who works at the Turkey Barn for the Christmas season, learning both about cleaning turkeys and her fellow workers, whose personalities are simultaneously peculiar and endearing.
Compiled and edited by Alberto Manguel, the collection contains short works by authors as vibrant and diverse as the stories themselves, such as Truman Capote, Graham Greene, Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, Itoh Seikoh, Muriel Spark, and William Trevor. In the short span of a few pages, each author succeeds in imparting emotions far beyond the traditional “connotations that the mention of Christmas evokes.” Both fresh and compelling, the tales compiled in The Ecco Book of Christmas Stories fearlessly grapple with and succeed in addressing the contradictory nature of Christmas stories.
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