December 1, 2011 | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Skip this Christmas book

‘Remembering Christmas’
By Tom Medicino
$15/250 pages

It happens every year.

First, you start seeing Christmas decorations. Then you notice yourself mouthing the words to songs while you’re shopping and you start to get nostalgic, missing family and remembering this gift and that dinner and holidays through rose-colored glasses.

It’s ho-ho-horrible, almost as if you’re homesick for something you never had. Seriously, who ever had a “perfect holiday,” anyhow?  In the new book “Remembering Christmas,” featuring three novellas by three premier authors, the only things perfect are the ghosts of Christmases past.

It’s funny how we remember special things we got for Christmas at the same time we remember things we didn’t get. In “Away, in a Manger” by Tom Medicino, middle-aged James is empty-handed and empty-hearted.

Life as a gay man in New York was good once. There was always another party, another summer in Fire Island, and another trip with Ernst, James’ lover and mentor.

But times change: Ernst is now an old man with fusty habits, the summer house is a tired tradition that needs to be retired, and James wants… something. Then, on his way to spend Christmas with his family, car trouble strands James in a tiny town where his future is hiding, covered in snow.

Remember wishing for that one special thing to show up beneath the tree? No matter how old you are, it’s hard not to have a specific gift in mind when you see piles of gifts, and in “A Christmas to Remember” by Frank Anthony Polito, all Jack Paterno wants is a boyfriend.

Specifically, Jack wants Kirk, his old pal from high school. There’s so much history between them, so many mutual friends and boyhood memories in common. But even though Jack is pretty sure Kirk’s gay, Kirk isn’t so sure himself.

And sometimes, especially if Christmas loses its magic, lost love feels keener. When Neil broke up with Theo just before the holidays, Theo decided that he might as well do what he said he’d never do, and go home for Christmas. But in “Missed Connections” by Michael Salvatore, a chance encounter with an old love becomes an odd gift.

Though my mother always told me not to judge a book by its cover, I have to admit that I did. The cover of this book looked like it was going to be fun.

I should have listened to Mom.

“Remembering Christmas” is awfully dark. It pouts and mutters, feels sorry for itself, gets morosely introspective and wallows in pity for pages and pages and pages. There are occasional bursts of good tidings and great joy, but the melancholy and angst overpowers it. I think I could have handled that in one story, but the similar theme of all three tales made me want to drown my sorrows in spiked eggnog.

I think that if you’re single, hating it and want some paper commiseration, then this book will be good company this season. But if you’re looking for a holiday book that makes you feel all Christmassy, this one is a perfect disaster.

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