An Off-White Christmas by Donald G. Evans comes in a deceiving package, and while we will resist any Christmas gift jokes, for now, we will explain what we mean. When we took in the title and the illustrations which populate the cover, our feeling was that we would be soon be entering a collection of stories about small towns and holidays, neighbors and families, tales of joy and woe, small miracles, and yet... wait, we did encounter those stories, just not as expected. What we were thinking is that we were entering a world more akin to Little House on the Prairie or Gangs of New York, not that the drawing of Yoda dressed as Santa Claus shouldn't have been a tip-off. But still expectations are expectations, and so we must now own-up to being just wrong and delightfully so at that. What we found were sketchy siblings stealing Christmas trees, family roadtrips, annoying brother-in-laws and lonely old men drinking away their woes after gambling away their savings. We found life and so much humanity, and yes there is joy and moments of grandeur and magic, see "One Person's Garbage," hope ripped from misery and emptiness, see "Ours Now," and a pair of personal favorites, "Whatever's Left of Normal," a soldier's story suffused with sadness and "Christmas Releases," a young person's tale suffused with goodness. And while we will not be the first to say this, there is a light touch to Evans' work, with words that dance, and stories that read like Christmas songs, and if you will indulge us before we go, a thought on short story collections for the writers out there. It's not easy to create as complete a collection as Evans as done here. Collections are tough. Stories have to be parsed and hang together, there needs to be flow, and one way to accomplish this is to find a unifying thread or framework to build your stories around. Again, these stories are ostensibly about Christmas, and Evans build the stories around that framework, but holidays especially, are about emotions, all of them, and in all ways and combinations, and Evans knows this, and shows it, and we encourage any of you embarking on a similar journey to remember this. Build on a foundation you know and believe in and a collection will follow. Also, do remember that there's no try, just do*. So, look, okay, as promised, no Christmas gift jokes, but as far as Christmas gifts go, you could most definitely do worse than An Off-White Christmas, which will most certainly change not only your life, but those of the lit fans on your Christmas list.
*A not so subtle Yoda shout-out.