Friday, January 25, 2013
A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs
When I saw last fall that Liz Curtis Higgs had written a new Christmas novella, I knew I wanted to read it, so I got my name on the holds list for an e-copy of the book through our state library system for digital books (WPLC). Remember good things come to those that wait, and I did have to wait until two weeks after Christmas. When I got notice that I could download the story, I actually hesitated. Did I feel like reading a Victorian Christmas story in mid-January, or should I pass, saving the story for next year? I am glad that I decided to read the story. At only 143 pages, it was like settling in for a wintery movie.
Margaret Campbell, a quite independent woman for the 1890's, has returned home to Stirling, Scotland for the Christmas holidays, but before Christmas Eve even arrives, she becomes upset over her younger brother's bitterness and hostility. Feeling she can take no more verbal abuse, the young school teacher decides a Christmas alone is better than time spent with her family, and she flees, planning to take the train back to her little cottage in Edinburgh. At the station, she learns that snow has delayed the train. Fearing that all travel will end for the night, but dreading a return to her parents' home even more, Margaret decides to wait at the station, hoping that the storm will diminish.
It is while she is waiting that she catches the eye of Gordon Shaw, a newspaperman who has come to the town for business. Stirling is not a strange city to him, however, for he grew up in this town. A careless act when he was a teen brought shame on his family and himself, and he has never been back. Settled into a productive life and a secure faith, Gordon still fears being recognized by towns people, but when he figures out who Margaret is, he feels he finally has a chance for forgiveness.
Despite its short length, this story could spark some lively discussions or self-reflections. There is a quest for forgiveness, an independent woman in a time when most were not, a troubled youth trapped by his own choices and parents who let circumstances and guilt force them to choose one child over another. Notes at the end of the book from Liz Curtis Higgs share her research into Victorian Scotland, Stirling itself, and even trains of the day That is even reflected in the title of the book Wreath of Snow which most readers will see as a simple attempt to create a "Christmasy" title, when actually "wreath" also means " snow drift" in Scottish. It is a large snow drift that stops the train Margaret and Gordon have boarded and forces the two to join others as they walk back to Stirling. For the pair, it is a walk to changed lives.
As I've already said, this story was a nice evening's entertainment, but when I got to the end and read the discussion questions and Liz's notes, I felt a little disappointed, not by her writing, but by me. I love Liz Curtis's writing and I usually become enmeshed in the authentic details of her historical fiction. This time, I didn't notice much of it until I read her notes. I wonder if it was because the story was so short and if it takes longer sometimes for me to settle into "another place or time"? Actually, I am leaning toward blaming it on my nook. When I have a physical book, I have that cover and any other art to place me in the correct setting each time I pick up the book. Somehow the act of turning a thick page gives me a sense of going to the place the writer has created. Despite really liking my e-reader, I don't always get that same connection. I am glad I read Liz's notes at the end (sort of wish I had read them first) as they prompted me to go back and revisit how the story was told.
Final note: The Scottish sport of curling plays a pivotal role in this story. Here in the United States, curling is virtually unheard of, except during the winter Olympics. However, I can boast that there is a curling rink about 30 minutes from us, and I believe there have been active curling leagues there for decades. Who ever thought ice, a large round rock, and a broom would make a great sport?