Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Calendar of Stories: Days 6-12

Another report from the Advent Calendar of Stories project I am working my way through, between now and Christmas.

Day 6: "Christmas Party" by Martin Werner
Charlie Evanston works for French and Saunders, a New York advertising firm known for its high-dollar accounts and glitzy, lavish Christmas parties. Charlie is put in charge of this year's Christmas party, which is to be held in the unfinished office building to which the firm is moving after Christmas. Just before the party, however, the firm inexplicably loses several major accounts, and Charlie is laid off. The Christmas party is to go on as scheduled, however, so Charlie in revenge hatches a plot to stage an "accident" for his boss at the Christmas party. Of course, we all know about the best laid plans...

Day 7: “The Spy and the Christmas Cipher” by Edward D. Hoch
British Intelligence learns that Ivan St. Ives, a renowned spy, has been seen working as Father Christmas at a local department store. Is he down on his luck, just needing a job, as his ex-girlfriend claims? Or is there something more nefarious going on? The plot thickens when Rand, the head of the Concealed Communications department, observes St. Ives handing out some very suspicious packages to some very suspicious parents and children. When one of the packages is intercepted, it is found to contain something very disturbing, along with a cryptic message that is almost not decoded in time. This was a very entertaining story and definitely not your run-of-the-mill Christmas tale.

Day 8: “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I have read many Sherlock Holmes stories in my life, but I did not remember reading this one before. It is a Christmas story, of course, involving a Christmas goose and a famous, valuable, and stolen jewel (the “blue carbuncle” of the story’s title) found in the goose’s crop when it was cooked. I like Sherlock Holmes stories, but this one was not one of my favorites. It seemed rather contrived, and as if Sir Arthur had merely “phoned this one in.” If you’re like me, and the term “carbuncle” makes you think of inflamed, painful boils on the skin (which is the medical definition of the term), here’s a picture of what a blue carbuncle might look like -- as far as I can gather, the term essentially refers to a ruby that is blue instead of red, which understandably would be quite rare and valuable.

Day 9: "A Christmas Tragedy" by Agatha Christie
This is a Miss Marple short story that is part of a larger collection, The Thirteen Problems. It’s one of those kinds of books where the characters sit around and tell stories, which happen to be the stories in the collection. THIS story was particularly interesting, in which Miss Marple recounts her encounter with a couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Sanders, and from the very moment she met them, she says she knew that Mr. Sanders was going to kill Mrs. Sanders. Well thanks, Miss Marple, for saving me the work of reading your story. However, this story, while indeed short, is a masterpiece of plotting, red herrings, and twisty endings, just the very thing that Agatha Christie was known for, and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s available as a standalone story via Kindle, which is how I read it, but now I’m really thinking I need to get the entire book and read it.

Day 10: "The Tailor of Gloucester" by Beatrix Potter
I was underwhelmed by this story. The only Beatrix Potter I was familiar with before reading it was, of course, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and it’s been quite some time since I read that one! This tale involves a tailor who is commissioned to make a coat for the Mayor of Gloucester in time for Christmas. But of course he runs into difficulties, gets sick, and cannot finish it in time. Mice that he just happened to rescue from his cat, Simpkin, come to his rescue in turn and finish the coat for him. I’m sure my opinion of this story was colored by the fact that this theme seems rather hackneyed by now, having been used by quite a few authors. But that certainly isn’t Ms Potter’s fault!

Day 11: "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
(Interestingly, the editor of the anthology from which I read this story notes that this story was originally entitled "Gifts of the Magi" when it was first published in the New York World. I'm not sure when the title got changed.)

What can I say about this story that has not already been said? Surely everyone has read this story. I will just say that it has been some years since I read it, but it has not lost its power to choke me up and make the world seem just a little bit kinder and more beautiful.

Day 12: "The Kid Hangs Up His Stocking" by Jacob Riis
I was unfamiliar with this story and author. I got the sense that this story and characters might be part of a larger work. But it's a great little story nonetheless. The residents of a boys' orphanage in New York notice that one of their newest and youngest members, a little boy they've dubbed "the Kid," has hung his stocking at the end of his bed in hopes of great things from Santa. The other, older boys can't stand to see the Kid disappointed on Christmas morning, so they conspire to do something about it.

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