Book Review: Christmas Branches

Latest Jack Kline collection of Christmas tales is a shareworthy feast
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright

The work of exceptional new fiction writer Jack Kline came to my attention a couple of years ago with the P.I. novel, But Not for Me, set in 1930s Kansas City and introducing Philip Morris and entourage into the pantheon of—some say ‘noir,’ I say ‘good’—classic detective literature. This year the author has assembled thirteen short stories from his imagination and family experience that capture the essence of Christmas… its intertwined holy day and ‘holiday’ aspects. Christmas Branches is a welcome addition for our time to the classic literature of the season.

As explained in the foreword, Jack’s writing career was presaged by the first story he ever wrote, as an assignment in the ninth grade. It was about Santa Claus saving a man from frozen death in a Christmas Eve blizzard… which became, in 2008, “Only a Christmas Story.”  That piece came one year after he wrote “Naming Christmas,” a splendid resolution of Jack’s recalled insensitivity, as a 13-year-old, to his dad’s feelings about “not getting the right tree,” for the family occasion. [Both of these Christmas stories appear in the author’s Blowing Carbon (2009) reflections.] With the Santa story:

“The bug had bitten. Each year since I have gifted my family a new story. A few have since been published, including “Christmas with the Pack” in the United Kingdom’s Prole magazine. All of them up through 2018 are included in this collection.

“Why Christmas Branches as the title?

“Decorated evergreens were originally part of pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice. Gradually, particularly during Queen Victoria’s reign in England, evergreens became integral in the Christian observation of Christmas. Each story in this volume is intended to be a branch of the overarching Christmas story—a story of joy, giving, faith, and love.

“I hope readers feel how much I love Christmas and the magical feeling it engenders, both religious and secular. Some of these stories do not directly relate to the reason for the holiday, but they show warmth and generosity that are part of the season. And some reflect more directly on the birth of Christ, including an unusual visit to Bethlehem at the time Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth.

“May these stories enhance your joy of this most special season.

“Merry Christmas,

“Jack”

From start to finish each of the Branches’ stories leads the reader on a cockle-warming voyage of self-discovery, evoking from one’s own memories similar events and their deeply personal meanings. Yes, Christmas is for children and parents, but also for young lovers, older marrieds, and even end-timers taking one last, languid walk down nostalgia lane. And the lonely soul looking for a comeback. Christmas, like joy, is for everyone. These narratives go straight to the heart—and often to the funny bone—by way of an author at the peak of his craft.

Sampling:

  • Is the man in the ’49 Mercury, performing rescue and relationship mending, really St. Nick?
  • Brother and sister devise scheme to bulwark Santa-belief for kid-cousin with result that astounds them all.
  • Best-selling author, in a remote and solitary setting, patches up a trapped animal and perhaps his own humanity.
  • On the road to his parents’ for Christmas Day a preacher’s son plays Good Samaritan, yielding a magical, timely message from scripture.
  • Scrawny tree, bodacious tree, will a family’s sensitive responses save Dad from a financial moment of weakness?
  • How a coyote family, following the bright star over Bethlehem, plays a key role in the birth of a special human pup.
  • The best laid plans… a mémoire from Papa Jack going ‘Clark Griswold’ in bringing the family Tannebaum back to the homestead…

…plus a Hallmark Moment train ride, maturity rising in a Chicago man thanks to a fortune cookie, Golden Christmas remembrance of a loved one, a Phil Morris (But Not for Me) Christmas story, thirteen memorable, seasonal short stories in all. You’ll be glad to have placed this book on your bed stand, into the hands of another, or to whomever, wherever the chestnuts are roasting for you, this Yuletide season.

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1 thought on “Book Review: Christmas Branches

  1. Great review…. I am definitely ordering this book for each of my adult sons and their families (and reading it first before wrapping). In this year of political strife, and human and environmental distress, we desperately need large doses of inspiration and objectivity. Every reminder of the innate goodness of our fellow beings, human, animal, or spiritual only serve to nurture hope and joy.

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