Sunday, December 22, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 207: Katherine Anne Porter, A Christmas Story (#207)

Katherine Anne Porter, "A Christmas Story" (1946) from Katherine Anne Porter: Collected Stories & Other Writings:

"a lament in the form of a joyous remembrance"
-Katherine Anne Porter, private letter, 1974

Porter tells about a pre-Christmas day in the life of her soon-to-be-passed niece, a day spent telling Jesus stories and going shopping for something for Porter's sister/the niece's mother. The stories are interesting in their own right if you're used to the nicey-nicey image of Jesus. Many of these old stories are taken from non-canonical texts, like the one where Jesus gets switched by his mom with a willow branch for being a brat and so curses all willows. (I still prefer the one where he commands bears to eat the children who are bullying him until an adult tells him he can't do that.)

But the main focus of this piece is split between Jesus (questions of his innocence and upcoming sacrifice, the time of his birth shadowed by his death) and Porter's niece, who is growing up before our very eyes (but who will soon die). So there's some nice parallelism there, with the implicit question of theodicy: why does this innocent niece have to die? In Jesus' case, the sacrifice is part of a happy story, but in the case of Porter's niece, is there any upshot? Doesn't seem to be.

(In fact, Porter's letter to a friend in 1974 says this explicitly.)

And for those interested in the history of Christmas, there's some of that too, with Porter critiquing the way that Santa has displaced Jesus; and the way that the old songs about Jesus are being replaced by consumerism. It all fits together since Santa is a character that promises all of the good stuff with none of the sacrifice of Jesus.

(Process notes: I am writing this on my iPad while riding up to Chicago. So how's that for commitment to a posting schedule?)

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