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'SKIPPING CHRISTMAS' Holiday hiatus



Published: Sun, January 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JULIE A. WAGNER

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

"Skipping Christmas" by John Grisham (Doubleday, $19.95)

Though Christmas is past, anyone who skips John Grisham's holiday novel risks missing a side of the author seldom seen in his best-selling legal thrillers.

Grisham asks his readers to take a leap of faith with him in "Skipping Christmas," a whimsical project far different from his usual product. He scores a hit with this novel full of farcical commentary on holiday commercialism, peer pressure and keeping up with the Joneses in today's world.

Fantasy: "Skipping Christmas" plays on a fantasy that nearly every adult has had. The thought, if spoken, might cause a person to be thrown out of some families and social circles.

"Let's just skip the rush, skip the traffic and skip the cost. Let's just skip Christmas and take a cruise."

That's what accountant Luther Krank and his wife, Nora, plan to do when their daughter and only child leaves the day after Thanksgiving for a tour of duty with the Peace Corps in South America.

She won't be home for the holidays, but, she tells them, next year they'll have a great big Christmas.

Krank, after convincing Nora that they need a break, buys his tickets and signs up for tanning sessions. They plan to fly out Christmas Day -- cheaper rates, says Luther -- to the port from which they will depart for 10 days of food, fun and sun.

Unfortunately, this is a slap in the face to Krank's neighbors on Hemlock Street.

Christmas zealots: The Christmas zealots in this middle-class suburb are stunned. No 8-foot, lighted Frosty on the roof like everyone else? No lights? No tree? No Christmas Eve bash? Krank must have lost his mind.

The mood turns even uglier when Hemlock Street loses the town's annual Christmas spirit contest to another neighborhood.

"Free Frosty" signs appear on his lawn overnight, rowdy carolers crowd his house and hate mail flows into his mailbox.

The neighbors will go to any length to pummel the holiday spirit back into the Kranks. They call the newspaper, which then does a story on the family that is skipping Christmas.

Krank dodges the peer pressure and tries to placate the Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees by telling them he'd be glad to give large donations to their spring fund-raisers. But nobody is happy.

Krank encounters more hostility at work where he skips the annual black-tie dinner and the drunken bash known as the office party. The tension is tempered only slightly by the admiration of his colleague Yank Slader, who would like to do the same thing but doesn't have the nerve.

Meanwhile, Nora fields calls from an obnoxious, high-end stationery store owner who is livid that the Kranks aren't having their annual Christmas Eve party or ordering cards.

She also duels with her card club friends who feel she's committed the greatest faux pas by going along with her husband.

Nearly successful: Finally, it's Christmas Eve day and the Kranks, stressed but successful in their mission, are packing.

One phone call changes everything.

You might guess what will happen, but how and why it does is a comical and touching ending to this novel.

"Skipping Christmas" doesn't deliver some sentimental, preachy reason why we should all just quit complaining and force ourselves to enjoy the holidays. It is as much about the true meaning of friendship as it is about the spirit of the holidays.

wagner@vindy.com




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