I used to read Maeve Binchy by the truckload and while her books are realistic, they certainly aren't happy. This collection of short stories is no different. It's a variety of stories about families who barely get along, women having affairs with married men, unhappy housewives/daughters/sons/etc. It's Christmas and everybody's miserable. Somehow they all muddle through and salvage something from the season.
In the title story a woman who does everything for her family decides that this year they will all help out. Instead of making this announcement, she passive aggressively dilly-dallies over the Christmas preparations. Her family is perplexed: why isn't Mom cooking like she usually does? They think they have a solution but of course being selfish jerks they do not. There is so much wrong with this picture. There are a number of stories of women crying in their wine as they wait for their lovers to visit them over the holiday season, usually for a brief howdy-doody away from the wife and kiddies. Those were very cynical, if you ask me.
There were a couple of good ones though: Miss Martin's Wish and A Typical Irish Christmas. In the first, Miss Martin, dumped at the altar years before, goes to New York for Christmas. The children she teaches convince her to do it. Somehow they have the idea that if you wish on the Statue of Liberty it will come true. It has a heartwarming end. A Typical Irish Christmas sees a new widower heading to Ireland to escape his memories. He helps a father and daughter resolve their differences. I wanted more of this! Sad but then Happy, like It's a Wonderful Life. Granted most of the protagonists have an epiphany of some sort, even if it's "Maybe I shouldn't sleep with married guys any more." It's a Christmas miracle!
Maeve Binchy does tell a good story and none of these were a chore to read., even though they weren't all happy ones. Maybe it's best not to read them all at once at Christmastime, not if you want to keep your Christmas spirit. Humbug.
PS- Yes, that cheesy gold covered copy is the one I have. Jealous?