Book Review: “The Christmas List”

Question: What kind of man serves divorce papers on his wife the day she arrives home from her first chemo treatment?  Or swindles an old friend on a property deal, netting millions for his own pocket while costing his “friend” his shirt?  What kind of guy has a son who refuses to invite him to his wedding and dubs Christmas décor “idiot glitter”?

Answer: James Kier, ruthless Salt Lake City real estate mogul and main character of Richard Paul Evans’ newest title, The Christmas List. This guy makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like a cupcake.

Loosely following A Christmas Carol, Evans’ List takes off running when Kier’s long-lost consciences kicks in after a snowstorm at the Snowed Inn where he’s booked for a weekend getaway with his new girlfriend.  The “ethically impaired” cut-throat gets more than he bargained for when Kier chances upon his obituary and reads on-line comments revealing what people really think of him.

Galvanized into action, Kier has a “Ghost of Christmas Past”-type turn-around and tries to make amends to the people whose lives his greed and avarice have ruined.  Armed with a list of five “top contenders” he’s wronged compiled by his secretary, Linda, Kier sets out to make things righ three weeks before Christmas.

The story gathers momentum and takes off running as we find out what a pre-obit jerk Kier really was through the reactions to his “saintly” endeavor: shock, denial, disbelief, rage.  Everyone keeps asking if he’s dying.  Kier winds up with a broken nose after one visit to a wrong-ee while other recipients of his newly found repentance respond with the warmth of a polar bear convention stuck in an igloo during an Arctic white-out.  One man whom Kier swindled out of his restaurant and life savings has committed suicide.  All five on Kier “Christmas list” are casualties of his Scroogish wheeling and dealing.  Disbelief, disgust and defeat dog every attempt to make amends.  When nobody wants what he’s offering, Kier’s noble cause seems a primo case of “too little, too late.”

Or is it?  Resisting the temptation to tie up the story with a trite little bow of “Happily Ever After” or a contrived “God bless us, everyone” ending, Evans offers plenty of surprises.

“What a fool I am” Kier tells his secretary after yet another failed attempt.  “When I started all this I actually thought I was being some kind of saint.  … But I’m just a hypocrite.  I didn’t do it for them, I did it for me and my legacy.  And I’ve failed.  I’ve failed everyone.  I couldn’t’ make restitution.  Not even with myself. …”

“But the thing is that now that I really do want to make things better, there’s nothing I can do.  Maybe this is hell, seeing the truth.  Knowing fully the pain and hurt you’ve caused others and knowing there’s no way you can make it better.  I’ve stolen their lives and dreams” he continued, “I have blood on my hands.  … How could I ever be forgiven?”

Linda replies, “Isn’t that the point of Christmas?”  It’s the point of The Christmas List:

“It had been years since he’d opened the book.  Its worn, onion paper pages were marked with red pencil.  Even after all the years he still remembered the passage he was looking for.

Isaiah 1:18: Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

A delightful read crafted with care and precision, The Christmas List is longer than the average Evans novel.  I know.  I’ve read them all.  Frankly, I was a little skeptical when I picked up List at the library the other day.  How can anyone come up with a new twist on that well-worn Dickensian classic of Christmas lore? But Evans has.  And then some.

A consummate storyteller with a unique ability to make his plots stand up and walk, Evans peppers his pages with believable, three-dimensional characters, evocative dialogue and delicious descriptions like jalapenos in hot salsa.  Reiterating the theme, page 351 is titled My Christmas List. It’s a nudge, followed by numerals and five blank spaces for the reader to make his/her own entries.  And take off running.

The Christmas List is an inspiring, hopeful story of faith, forgiveness and second chances,  a luminous holiday read that’s sure to warm you heart and soul year ‘round.  Don’t wait to get your own copy.  Better yet, get two.  Share one with a friend or relative  on your own “Christmas list.”

The Christmas List

By Richard Paul Evans

Simon & Schuster, 2009


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