by Connie Willis

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Asimov's, December 1991

collected in —

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories September 2011

On the gift-giving virtue

Connie Willis has a lot of fun with gifts in "Miracle", a Christmas fantasy novelet with a contemporary setting. Gifts asked and unasked for, sought and unsought, found and not found — for these three pairs are not congruent and often are obscured and tangled among people, and even within ourselves. Our narrator is Lauren, and sharpening the Christmas rush for her is the coming Christmas office party and gift exchange; several of her co-workers are the other main characters. And then at Lauren's door arrives a visitor:

"I don't have time for this," she muttered, and opened the door, still holding the shopping bag.

It was a young man wearing a "Save the Whales" T-shirt and khaki pants. He had shoulder-length blond hair and a vague expression that made her think of southern California.

"Yes? What is it?" she asked

"I'm here to give you a Christmas present," he said.

"Thank you, I'm not interested in whatever you're selling," she said, and shut the door.

But he is not so easily deterred. Shortly:

The young man was sitting on the couch, messing with her TV remote. "So, what do you want for Christmas? A yacht? A pony?" He punched buttons on the remote, frowning. "A new TV?"

"How did you get in here?" Lauren said squeakily. She looked at the door. The deadbolt and chain were both still on.

"I'm a spirit," he said, putting the remote down. The TV suddenly blared on. "The Spirit of Christmas Present."

"Oh," Lauren said, edging toward the phone. "Like in A Christmas Carol."

"No," he said, flipping through the channels. She looked at the remote. It was still on the coffee table. "Not Christmas Present. Christmas Present. You know, Barbie dolls, ugly ties, cheese logs, the stuff people give you for Christmas."

This fellow, this spirit — "You can call me Chris for short" — is a great character. Dropped into one of Connie Willis' utterly natural settings here in "Miracle", Chris manages to fit perfectly. Like other Christmas spirits, though, some of his most ordinary statements slide into the oracularly misleading, and his commonplace actions are as baffling as his conversational exchanges. Thus Lauren's Christmas gift-planning and other efforts begin to slither awry.

As a little multiply-wrapped offering of mine own, a side note here:

... This is Zarathustra's first conversational exchange and the subject is the varieties of exchange itself. Why does Zarathustra go down to men, to "sleepers," demands the hermit. Zarathustra's first answer is "I love man," but the hermit easily replies that love of man is precisely his reason for having retreated into his solitude: man is unworthy of love, love of man would be fatal for him. Zarathustra's self-correction is speedy: "Did I speak of love? I bring men a gift."
Gary Shapiro
"On Presents and Presence"
Nietzsche on Gifts, Noise, and Women  (1991)

[reference is to —
 Part I, "Zarathustra's Prologue", Section 2
 Thus Spoke Zarathustra]

A lot of conversational banter in the story concerns two famous Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street (1947, with Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946, with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed). You needn't know them to appreciate their contrasting roles in the story, but they do soak so deeply into its texture that after several readings I'm not entirely sure I've seen all of the nuances. For the author's analysis of these films in her own voice, see the Introduction to her collection Miracle, and Other Christmas Stories.

"Miracle" is a fine romantic comedy and a fine Christmas fantasy; a greatly enjoyable story.


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

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