Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner

Title:  Politically Correct Holiday Stories For an Enlightened Yuletide Season

AuthorJames Finn Garner

Hardcover:  99 pages

Published: 1995

ISBN:  0028604202

Twas the night before solstice and all through the co-op
Not a creature was messing the calm status quo up.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Dreaming of lentils and warm whole-grain breads.

We’d welcomed the winter that day after school
By dancing and drumming and burning the Yule,

A more meaningful gesture to honor the planet
Than buying more trinkets for Mom and Aunt Janet,

Or choosing a tree just to murder and stump it
And dress it all up like a seasonal strumpet.

My lifemate and I, having turned down the heat,
Slipped under the covers for a well-deserved sleep,

When from out on the lawn there came such a roar
I fell from my futon and rolled to the floor.

I crawled to the window and pulled back the latch,
And muttered, “Aw, where is the Neighborhood Watch?”

I saw there below through the murk of the night
A sleigh and eight reindeer of nonstandard height.

At the reins of the sleigh sat a mean-hearted knave
Who treated each deer like his persunal slave

I’d seen him before in some ads for car loans,
Plus fast food and soft drinks and cellular phones.

He must have cashed in from his mercantile chores,
Since self-satisfaction just oozed from his pores.

-“Twas the Night Before Solstice”, Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner, pages 1-2

I first came across James Finn Garner’s schtick of running long-standing and beloved stories of western culture through the PC sanitizer in high school when I read his Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.  What made that first book so funny was that it was original and pointed out the ridiculousness of the then small voice of the PC police.  Oh, if only we knew then how that voice would grow and become the bully it is today!

In this holiday version of the original book, Garner revisits our favorite Christmas stories, some with more success than others.  The first is a modernized and sanitized version of Clement Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, and the best offering in the whole book.  The narrator of the story (a man or woman, we never really know.. though, it sounds like a shrill hippy-feminazi) argues with the Santa about everything from Christmas trees to Barbie dolls and toy guns.  Ultimately, Santa capitulates and exits, leaving this admonishment:

“I pity the kids who grow up around here,
Who’re never permitted to be of good cheer,

“Who aren’t allowed leisure for leisure’s own sake,
But must fret every minute -it makes my heart break!”

-pages 8-9

And in place of the traditional “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” this Santa calls out as he flies off, “Happy Christmas to all, but get over yourselves!”

This particular section of the book is, in my opinion, the only part of the book worth reading.  It’s clever and pulls into focus exactly what is at stake with the PC craziness and who suffers the most.  Children are more and more being forced to worry about what they say and how it might be received.  They are forced at ever earlier ages to consider how their words and actions might be taken out of context.  From the kindergartener who was expelled for sexual harassment because he kissed his classmate on the cheek, to Maggie’s own classmates (fifth graders) calling her a racist because she likes asian things (HELLO? she’s asian!) or labeling another classmate as a racist because someone said she is one.  It’s become the new bad-name to call each other whether it is true or not, and whether they even understand what it means.  It’s the “Your mother wears army boots!” of the next generation.

Other stories included in this book:

Frosty the Persun of Snow – Frosty, a gender non-specific persun of snow, organizes a march to D.C. with the goal of making congress enact changes to end global warning.  Unfortunately, an army of snowmen showing up on Capitol Hill tends to draw the media’s attention, and where the media goes, so do those pesky hot lights.

The Nutcracker – Clara organizes committees to talk to the mice and get them to come to an agreement instead of fighting, then refuses the Nutcracker’s invitation to visit his kingdom, calling it a tactic to portray womyn as “docile, helpless and easily manipulated with identities and backgrounds of lesser importance” than that of males, and that they perpetuate their abduction fantasy.  Yeah… political correctness and communism just sucks the fun out of our holiday stories.

Rudolph the Nasally Empowered Reindeer – Basically, Rudolph is a bitter, angry loner who takes the opportunity of Santa’s need for his glowing nose to rape the jolly old elf into concessions that ultimately leave his fellow reindeer unhappy and then he leaves them to organize his Laplander cousins.

A Christmas Carol – All I can say about this one is that Dickens’ original story of keeping the spirit of the season in your heart all year round has been redone, revisited, and remixed so many times that, unless you can really knock it out of the park, another version of it just becomes white noise.  Garner’s attempt is mediocre at best, and portrays Cratchit as a impotent subversive, Fred as a milksop without any sense of self, and Tiny Tim… oh, excuse me, Diminutive Timón as an opportunist. 

Overall, Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner was just meh.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Here’s a clip of my favorite PC Christmas Story 🙂

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Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman

Title:  Fragile Things:  Short Fictions and Wonders

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Paperback:  376 pages

Publisher:  Harper Perennial

Publish Date:  2006

ISBN:  9780060515225

Miscellaneous:  This is a P.S. edition

Colors seemed brighter because Becky was there. I began to notice parts of life I had never seen before: I saw the elegant intricacy of flowers, because Becky loved flowers; I became a fan of silent movies, because Becky loved silent movies, and I watched The Thief of Baghdad and Sherlock Junior over and over; I began to accumulate CDs and tapes, because Becky loved music, and I loved her, and I loved to love what she loved. I had never heard music before; never understood the black-and-white grace of a silent clown before; never touched or smelled or properly looked at a flower, before I met her.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman. “How Do You Think It Feels?”, pages 196-197.

 

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders is my first experience with Gaiman, but it will most certainly NOT be my last. I am absolutely impressed with Gaiman’s writing, imagination, skill as a storyteller (a weaver of magic, really), and this book will be one of the few books I read that will NOT be posted in my BookMooch or PBS inventory. Truly, Fragile Things is now one of my favorite books, and I want to read it again and again until the pages fall out, then tape them all back in and read it again and again until the ink has worn away.

There is much in Fragile Things that should count as literature and should, in time, be counted as classic literature. Reading a bit like Bradbury (one of the stories is dedicated to him, who, as Gaiman puts it, could have written it much better than Gaiman himself.), mixed with C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll… even a bit of a feel of Roald Dahl and The Brothers Grimm, Gaiman weaves stories and poems that capture the sensations of dreaming, while being mesmerizing and excited the reader’s anticipation at the same time.

I could write a book on this book, and if I were a literature teacher, I would definately use Fragile Things as one of the books to pull from (or at least parts of the book… while my library has classified this book as a Young Adult, I believe it should be in the adult section, as more than a couple stories deal with, hint at, or just out and out have sexually explicit content, as well as the liberal use of the word “fuck” in a couple stories.).

As this book contains fourteen different works, I’m not going to review each one. Instead, I want to bring out a few of my favorites. First off, I want to share what is now one of my favorite poems. As a poet, Gaiman has a Shel Silverstein feel, as well, who is one of my favorite poets.

GOING WODWO
(A wodwo, or wodwose, was a wild man if the woods.)

Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life
Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves
Going in search of food and for a spring
Of sweet water.

I’ll find a tree as wide as ten fat men
Clear water rilling over its gray roots
Berries I’ll find, and crabapples and nuts.
And call it home.

I’ll tell the wind my name, and no one else.
True madness takes or leaves us in the wood
halfway through all our lives. My skin will be
my face now.

I must be nuts. Sense left with shoes and house,
my guts are cramped. I’ll stumble through the green
back to my roots, and leaves and thorns and buds,
and shiver.

I’ll leave the way of words to walk the wood
I’ll be the forest’s man, and greet the sun,
And feel the silence blossom on my tongue
like language.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman. “Going Wodwo” page 83

The first short story is called “A Study in Emerald”in which Gaiman marries the world of Sherlock Holmes to a world H. P. Lovecraft might create. The resulting work retains the essence of Holmes, while the subtleties of the London of New Albion, the England of an alternate timeline, slowly bloom with the discovery of the name of the murder being a surprise to any Holmes fan.

The short story, “Other People”, is one of my favorites and I’ve already read it three times, and plan to copy it to MSWorks and save it to my computer. It’s shocking, a bit terrifying, and, in the end, a sense of resignation and acceptance of “the way things are” are felt by the reader. “Other People” paints a suppositional picture of Hell, one in which I could totally believe, where after agonizing physical torture is followed by the reliving, re-experiencing, recounting, every bad thing the man has done or lies told, and stretches his realization of how these things effected the people not only in his life, but also strangers he’d never even known. And once all that is done and all that he is left with is truth and self-loathing, he fully understands how things work there. The first and last line of this story is “Time is fluid here,” and it is.

The short story “Goliath”was a story commissioned for The Matrix website to accompany the release of the movie. After reading the script for the movie, Gaiman wrote “Goliath”. It is NOT a short story version of the movie, but rather, takes the concept of humans living in the pods, their brains being used as RAM for a supercomputer. The hero of the story suffers from gigantism and has always felt out of place and clumsy. But it’s all revealed to him why he was created that way, which gives him a sense of purpose and joy… but that joy is short lived when he realizes he is just an expendable part of the machinery to those running the machine. The last 28 minutes of his life makes you ask yourself the question: Would you choose the red pill or blue pill?

THE DAY THE SAUCERS CAME

That day, the saucers landed. Hundreds of them, golden,
Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,
And the people of Earth stood and
stared as they descended,
Waiting, dry-mouthed, to find what waited inside for us
And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow
But you didn’t notice it because

That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,
But you did not notice this because

On the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was
Rangnarok also, and the television screens showed us
A ship built of dead-men’s nails, a serpent, a wolf,
All bigger than the mind could hold,
and the cameraman could
Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out
But you did not see them coming because

On the saucer-zombie-battling-gods
day the floodgates broke
And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites
Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities
And charm and cleverness and true
brave hearts and pots of gold
While giants feefofummed across
the land, and killer bees,
But you had no idea of any of this because

That day, the saucer day the zombie day
The Ragnarok and fairies day, the
day the great winds came
And snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day
Computers turned, the screens telling
us we would obey, the day
Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,
And all the bells of London were sounded, the day
Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,
The fluttering capes and arrival of
the Time Machine day,
You didn’t notice any of this because
you were sitting in your room, not doing anything
not even reading, not really, just
looking at your telephone,
wondering if I was going to call.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman. “The Day The Saucers Came” pages 271-272

Adding to the amazing creativity contained within these pages, the order of the stories and poems have been painstakingly and very effectively arranged so that each progressive story builds on the previous, giving a reader something not felt in most short story collections:  continuity.

I give Fragile Things:  Short Fictions and Wondersby Neil Gaiman five out of five stars, and place it on my shelf next to my Lord of the Rings collection, complete works of Lewis Carroll, my Chronicles of Narnia collection, my Grimms and Andersens.  A true classic of storytelling.

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One More Year by Sana Krasikov

Title:  One More Year
Autor: Sana Krasikov
Pages: 196
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (a division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780385524391

She was tired, tired of waiting for some big event to happen in her life, while things only dragged on and on… Everything in her life was about waiting.

-Better Half, p 91

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One More Yearis a collection of eight short stories by Sana Krasikov. It is a lopsided effort. A couple of the stories are brilliant, one is a one of the worst things I’ve read lately, and the rest are, mneh.

Unfortunately, the first story in this book, Companion, is about a Russian divorcee named Ilona. She lives in an apartment with Earl Brauer and their relationship is never clear. Is she the live-in nurse? Is she just a friend and roommate? It is a confusing arrangement, and the only thing I am certain of is that Ilona is a self-centered twit who isn’t worth my time to read about. Earl isn’t much better, but at least I can understand a feel a slight twinge of sympathy. He’s lonely and she’s a user, but where he also loses me is that he’s manipulative. This story was so bad, I would have pitched the book had it not been an ARC to review. 0 stars for this one.

The two stories that I felt were brilliantly written and had great character development were Asal and The Repatriates. Asal is the story of Gulia, the unofficial wife of Rashid, who was previously married to a druggie wife-beater with an overbearing mother. She wants Rashid to divorce his legal wife so they can marry, just like he promised. When he won’t do this, she leaves for America to let him stew in his juices. When the call finally comes that he’s going through with it, Gulia’s joy is short lived. (4 out of 5 stars)

It wasn’t despair that had made Nasrin do it, she thought, it was simple vengeance. How did one compete with insanity, she wondered.

-Asal, page 65

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One thing that I liked about The Repatriates is that it shows the occasional immigrant who, upon coming to the US, believes their homeland is the best in the world. I’ve known several Vietnamese who talk this way, and have a Cuban friend who is always on about the marvelous things communism has done for his country. But they always do this with their feet planted firmly on the green grass of a free country, which always irks me.

The first line of The Repatriates tells it all:

The last days of Grisha and Lera Arsenyev’s marriage might have been a story fashioned out of commonplace warnings.

It’s the story of religious fanaticism, delusions of grandeur and trickery, and what it’s like to wake up and realized you’ve been duped by someone who was supposed to love and honor you. (4 out of five stars)

The rest of the stories are mostly just okay. Some are better than others, but nothing I’d buy a book for.

Maia in Yonkers: Maia came to New York City to work for more money than she could make back in the Ukraine. She flies her teenage son to visit her, and he proves that Americans don’t have the corner market on surly teens. (2.5 stars)
Debt: Seems to be about my relatives… Lev and his wife receive an unexpected visit from his niece and her husband. But, like my relatives, she’s come to ask for money. AND like my relatives, if he tells her no, she’ll write him off as a selfish money-hoarder. (2 stars)
Better Half: After staying in America, Anya marries Ryan who turns out to be a pot-smoking dreamer who’s abusive and paranoid-jealous. He hides her paperwork she needs to get her permanent alien status, among other butthole things, and yet… ugh, I wanted to slap her. (3 stars, maybe 3.5)
The Alternate: A man seizes the opportunity to have dinner with the daughter of his old college sweetheart with the hope of an affair. Mneh… (1 star)
There Will Be No Fourth Rome: Another stupid woman putting her freedom on the line for her boyfriend. DUH! Nona says it best in this story, “Don’t you just wish you could kill people lie that with your thoughts?” You see, that’s why I choose to stay single.(3 stars)

This book could be renamed “Women Waiting Around for Their Boyfriends to Divorce Their Wives”. The title “One More Year” comes from the second story; Maia tells her son she’s staying in America for one more year, to which he reminds her she said that last year.

What this book does well is present a picture of Georgia and Moscow the west has not seen. A world of dower-faced, bitter people who are only after what they can graft and out-right steal from anyone, even their friends and family… especially their friends and family. I suppose, if this is a true portrait, it is a mentality born from so much poverty and oppression. Even after they leave the old country and set up in America, they bring the same mindsets with them. In this, Krasikov’s characters are real and imperfect, even if they are loathsome.

However, I think Krasikov tries to put too many characters in her stories, making it impossible to develop them properly. It’s possible they’d make better novels. Another problem I had with this book is I found several parts confusing; places I wasn’t sure who was saying what or what was even going on. There were several times I came jerking to a stop over punctuation, sometimes too much and others not enough. One of those times was a sentence with a comma that tore up the effectiveness of the thought. I read and reread it, trying to figure out what she had meant to say, finally saying, “I hate that sentence” before moving on. I think the fact that the first story was so bad the rest of the book was tainted by that.

For much of this book, I can’t help but think One More Year is the kind of commercialized book Nam Le wrote about in The Boat‘s first story: Ethnic lit for ethnic sake, not for the quality of the writing. “She’s from the Ukraine! Buy her book!” Oddly enough, like Nam Le, she’s a Iowa Workshop writer. Hmm… maybe the fellow student in “Love and Honor” wasn’t from China after all.

After totalling up all the stars and dividing by 8, One More Yearreceives an overall 2.5 stars. Mneh.