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“Gritty Southern Christmas Anthology” By: Rachel Davis

“Gritty Southern Christmas Anthology”

Edited by Rachel Davis

Publisher: Gritty South

2021

Price: $14.95 (Paper)

Pages: 130

It seems to me that there used to be more Christmas collections, stories by a single author or, as in this case, several authors. Those collections were usually very positive.

“Gritty Southern Christmas Anthology” is composed of 16 pieces—one poem, several nonfiction pieces, some barely fictional stories and a couple of true, imagined short stories. The pieces run, as is usually the case with collections, from the very good to the not so good.

The first story, “As Luck Would Have It,” by Laura Hunter, is also the darkest.

Willard Peoples is being let out of Holman Prison in Atmore, early Christmas eve of 2020, because of the COVID pandemic. Prisoners are overcrowded, sick and dying. Many leave by “back door parole,” that is, they die in prison.

Willard is poor, luckless, with little self-control; one of nature’s losers. He has never caught a break and probably never will. The corrections system has given him $20 and he wants to buy little presents for his two children back on Sand Mountain.

Within hours of his release, Willard impulsively commits a crime, and it is not a very nice one, and we know he will eventually be back in prison if he and his family don’t die of COVID-19.

Now THAT is a gritty Christmas story.

Several of the stories are a combination of painful and hopeful.

In “The Gift,” by Gayle Young, a little girl is sad because her parents are divorced but her Nana’s present, a ballerina in a jewelry box, gives her a lift. We are told the ballerina never stops dancing, never gives up, and neither should she.

“No Christmas Miracles” by Peter Last is a sentimental tale of a young married couple who are having a really tough time.

Brian has an engineering degree but works at terrible jobs: a drug clinic and a fast-food chicken shack, and Shelly has a rotten job and a mean boss. They fight. Life seems grim but on Christmas Eve Brian reminds Shelley: “I don’t think it’s ever been more hopeless than the day before Jesus was born.” They must have hope.

This collection is not for atheists, agnostics or skeptics of any stripe.

A more successful inspirational story, I thought, was “Hooves and Hope” by C. R. Fulton.

It’s told from the point of view of young Lacy Mullins, a teen in “the system” who will spend the Christmas holidays on a farm in Kentucky.

Lacy is surly, unhappy, cynical. It appears she has been abused by men —and is headed for a lifetime of trouble, but the farm family’s gentle, selfless love slowly warms her up. In a nice scene reminiscent of “All Creatures Great and Small,” Lacy helps to deliver a foal for the mare Moonlight, saving the life of mare and foal, and this direct connection with the life force saves her.

The collection ends with “Halfway to Nashville.”

The protagonist, a nice middle-class woman, Brantley McGehee Spencer, is driving alone up to Nashville at Christmastime. Recently having become an empty nester, she is at loose ends and wonders if she should make a bold new start, perhaps divorce her husband.

As she drives, Brantley composes in her head, a country song, “Halfway to Nashville, Halfway from home,” then “Halfway to leaving you, Halfway on my own.”

The lyrics are driven not so much by genuine emotions but by rhyme and the conventions of country music, and in her creative imagination, she’s an abused woman, escaping from a hellish situation.

Arriving in Nashville, she has completed the song, come to terms with her situation and of course, decided to return home to her happy marriage. This was good news since the author, Jennifer Horne, is my wife.

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.
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  • ASCA_Small_logo.pngNow a retired English professor at The University of Alabama, Dr. Noble's specialties are Southern and American literature. He also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.Don Noble's reviews can be heard most Mondays at 7:45am and 4:44pm. and have been made possible in part through grants from the Alabama State Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the support of The University of Alabama, and from the generous support from our listeners. Thank you!To listen to the audio version of Dr. Noble's reviews, just click on the book title to be taken to the full page. Audio is found either at the very beginning of the transcript or at the bottom of the page.Dr. Noble's Book Reviews are made possible in part with a grant from The Alabama State Council on the Arts,