The Christmas Box Collection
by Richard Paul Evans, contemporary (1999)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-671-02764-6


Die-hard fans of Mr Evans are going to string me up and burn my effigy, but I'll say it here: this is my first book by this author (okay, first three books, technically), and I have only one word for them: Extra-cheese. There's enough cheese and corn amidst the pages of this book to cause pellagra in the entire population of Africa.

From all the hyped comments on the book cover, I am led to expect a beautifully lyrical book that will change my world and perspective. Not quite. Noble intentions cannot overcome stilted writing and contrived situations the characters face. It is one thing to convey a message of love and peace, but I really dislike it when a person forces down the messages with the delicacy of an enraged bull in a ring. Especially when the messages are served in a healthy wallop of cheese. I hate cheese.

The Christmas Box is a story where an overworked man learns not to neglect his wife and daughter after discovering his kind landlady's letters to her late daughter in a Christmas Box in the attic. All nicely decorated in awkward, linear prose and garnished with some weird chapters where the hero dreams of angels and stuff. The latter are totally unnecessary to the story, except perhaps to give it some sort of religious hue.

Timepiece tells the story of the landlady above, when she's younger and in love. Again, the whole story smells of rancid butter. The Letter has some sort of mumbo-jumbo ghost thing that is supposed to teach me about the power of healing love.

Hogwash.

It's not that I don't believe in love. But I say Hogwash to the author's clumsy and inept attempts at manipulating his audience to cry. How on earth does one do that with one-dimensional characters that talk in the same way, adult and children? With short, truncated sentences peppered with weird imageries? It's as if this book is written by a very intelligent word-processor - it is quite startling to realize how cold the book is in terms of emotional intensity. The contradiction to its intention to warm my heart is quite stunning.

Mr Evans display the same sterling literary talents as Nicholas Evans and Nicholas Sparks: totally lackluster, humorless, devoid of characterization, and hey, they look good at the back cover. I'm sure many people would lap up this book - marketing and great covers can be powerful indeed - but me, I'd take a slice of Tiramisu over this sort of cheesy Taco Bell Instant-5-Minute-Weepie Special anyday, anytime.

Rating: 10


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