As December rolls on this year, I’m trying to work my way through all those random Christmas books I see laying around people’s houses. Thank God for friends willing to share with this old bibliophile! I want this year to be more “Christmassy” for my family than we’ve known in years past. I’ve gone through too many Christmases away from my hometown through the years, too many holiday seasons outside the culture of American sentimentality which makes Christmastime so warm and fuzzy. This year, however, as I travel with my wife and kids into something similar, I wanted to carry with us some of those same, sentimental feelings. And where better to find a healthy dose of American sentimentality than from a former Statler Brother, Don Reid?
O Little Town, Reid’s first novel, follows the interconnected stories of several families in Mt. Jefferson, VA, in 1958. He shares stories of infidelity, fear, loss, gossip, and sickness among others, and each bears its own understood level or seriousness or heartbreak. Over everything hangs a thick coating of “Why this? Why now, two days before Christmas?” and it’s a fitting tribute the majority of family’s craving to set aside their squabbles and anxieties for a little respite of peace and joy during the holidays. In fact, Reid’s ultimate theme is forgiveness, which in the end is what Christmas is all about anyways.
This being a Christian novel, one would figure that, of all things to leave out of the Christmas story, the name of Jesus probably shouldn’t be one of them! Reid somehow manages to do this, though, and strangely it works, for both the Lord’s birth and His reason for coming seem to be understood within the fabric of the story and with the collective mentality of these small-town folk. Everyone’s a church-goer and, while not everyone lives the life of morality ascribed to Christians in the Word, there’s a fairly consistent acknowledgement that sin and failure require forgiveness on one end and change on the other.
Reid also added some real intrigue to his story by adding a character’s memories from 1904 alongside the stories of these people. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the morals that these memories describe, however. They seem to implicitly justify the extra-marital “love” which stands at the heart of a number of the families’ problems, as if to suggest from the most grandfatherly figure in the book, “It’s all right that you’ve not been entirely faithful; we all commit adultery in our hearts every now and then.” If that’s truly where Reid is coming from—that forgiveness stems from an understanding of our own failures—then I’d have to disagree with his overall philosophy. If, on the other hand, he’s suggesting that forgiveness stems from an understanding of our own failures and from the undeserved forgiveness God gives us for those sins, then of course, I’m totally on board.
This book was an interesting look into some small-town squabbles, and while it didn’t necessarily fill me with the joy of the Christmas season with song and food and snow, it did get me to think about forgiveness and the ultimate reason why God ever sent us His Son in the first place. And there’s nothing wrong with that.