Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Letters by Lee Smith

This is a novella by the North Carolina author who wrote On Agate Hill and The Last Girls to name just a few. It tells the story of three generations of women through the annual Christmas letters they write to friends and family. I always enjoy reading books that are told through letters and/or diary entries. This is a new take on that format for me. It really worked well in this case. You'd think that you couldn't convey all that much about a family in a relatively short annual letter; however, Smith manages to paint a vivid picture of these characters and how their lives are intertwined over place and time. It begins with Birdie writing home to her family as she is spending her first days away from home with her in-laws while her new husband is away fighting in WWII. Smith captures the excitement and the fear in the young bride's words without being overly sentimental. Birdie describes how much she loves taking care of her new baby, Mary in subsequent letters.

It's this same child that takes up writing Christmas letters for the family years later. Mary had always been a very intelligent girl and dreamed of going to college. However, she quits school to elope. The children soon begin to come and life takes over as it often does. The reader sees the passage of time in society as well as in the family as the letters continue throughout the years. Just as in real life, there are joys and heartbreaks along the way.

It's Mary's daughter Melanie who takes up the post to write the Christmas letters when she comes of age. Though things have changed in many ways, they are still a family. As always, Lee Smith does a great job portraying these characters as real people that I easily identify with. This is a book that I'll probably revisit often at Christmas.

4 comments:

Diane said...

I recall loving this sweet book when I read it several years ago. Happy you enjoyed it too.

Jill said...

I read On Agate Hill and loved Smith's writing. One day, I'll get back to her.

Merry Christmas!
Jill =)

JoAnn said...

Fair and Tender Ladies is on my shelf with a bookmark somewhere around page 50. The Christmas Letters sounds wonderful...I should give Lee Smith another try!

Lisa said...

Diane, it was a nice change of pace -- especially for this hectic time of year.

Jill, On Agate Hill is a good example of some of her best work.

Joann, I haven't read that one by Smith. This novella would be a good place to try her again because it's a really quick read.