It's been a while since an LB Gregg release so I was pleased to see this Christmas story at Musa Publishing. It tells of Jason who prefers to avoid all the socialising that happens around Christmas. Unfortunately, his good friend Sunny, isn't letting him get away with it this year and drags him along to her family's Christmas shindig at their new mansion type house. Whilst there Jason sees Sunny's brother, Robb, who's just been released from the military. Jason has had a crush on Robb for years but always seems to end up making a fool of himself in front of Robb. It seems that things never change for Jason as whilst he attempting to slip away unnoticed he's felled by a rogue Christmas lawn decoration, and it's up to Robb to get him to the hospital.
As with all LB Gregg stories this one is filled with great humour and observational comedy. Jason's clumsiness - both physically and socially provides a lot of the comedy, as does his sharp wit and self deprecatory narrative. However, there are more serious themes in and amongst the laughs. Jason's very conscious that his upbringing as an orphan often leaves him unprepared and awkward when it comes to social situations, and this gives us flashes of a painful past for Jason. Robb has also suffered a great deal whilst on active duty, as we can see from this first description of Robb:
Gaunt and rawboned, he’d aged ten years, easily. Time had stamped lines on his face and something, maybe experience, hardened him.
As with many first person narratives we don't get to know much about Robb, but there's enough given in the impressions that Jason gets, their conversations and Robb's quiet disclosures that hint of a lot of pain and bad experiences. I liked that there was no quick fix for Robb, no instant healing via sex. It made the ending all that more worthwhile when it happened.
My favourite thing about the story was the unusual character of Jason. We find out that he's so much more than clever words, and slightly neurotic behaviour. Instead he's a man who has struggles with a past which he refuses to let define him; a man who has developed coping strategies; a man who has his own business; a man who sees what Robb is going through and does exactly the right thing to help. Jason made me smile and laugh out loud at some of his thoughts, but he also brought a tear to my eye and made my heart ache for him.
Overall, this was just a marvellous seasonal short with a good mix of slapstick and observational humour, with some more sombre and quiet moments. The serious themes didn't overwhelm the story but they were also given enough space to be dealt with appropriately. The end left me with the warm fuzzies. Those readers who are looking for a short story to read this Christmas should definitely pick this one up and it gets a grade of 'Excellent' from me.
Buy this book HERE.