The Christmas Visit by Marshall Thornton
After his mother’s death, a Chicago advertising executive in his early thirties returns to his tiny upstate New York hometown to spend the Christmas holiday with his recently widowed father. While struggling to get along with his prickly father, he finds himself becoming involved with the teenage crush he’s never forgotten, now a closeted sheriff’s deputy. The relationship still has the same old fire, but it complicated by the old crush being married. Suddenly, everything takes a backseat solving the mystery at the center of the deputy’s marriage. Will a Christmas visit bring happiness to anyone, or will it end in misery?
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
I’ve wanted to read something by this author for a while so I was pretty pleased to find this smaller offering. It gives you a good idea of the writing style and characters, but handles some difficult subjects that aren’t going to please all readers. There’s a happy ending that I’m not sure I bought into it fully and the story really lacked something due to the shorter length. However, it’s a quick mostly enjoyable read with characters that are definitely not run of the mill.
The story is told through the first person narrator, a nameless artist who took a job in advertising to pay the bills. He’s heading home to spend Christmas with his recently widowed father, but he has little love for the small town. While trying to placate his father’s demands and wishes, the narrator finds himself in close proximity to a long ago crush from his youth, Travis. Travis wants to pick up where they left off but he’s not only closeted, he’s married. The narrator struggles to figure out if Travis is anything special to him and if so, what does it mean for the two of them.
While the narrator is a nameless man, I can’t say I noticed it while reading the story. It was only after I realized the lack of name and if anything, it’d be nice to be able to describe the story without always saying “the no-name.” The main character is decent and interesting but he, like the other characters, feels as though he’s drifting through life. He has a decent job but not one he’s clearly excited about. He has a comfortable life in Chicago that he wants to maintain but no real passion or drive. He is attracted to Travis and still a bit angry over how they parted in his youth but it’s also not very strong and somewhat absent minded.
Similarly Travis is married to his high school sweetheart and deeply closeted. There’s no real mention of Travis’ past and how he came to be the way he is, willing to cheat on his wife for a memory of an encounter, so he comes across lackluster and less interesting. I like the dynamic between the main character and Travis and there clearly is passion and some deep feelings, but the story tries to pitch a much more meaningful relationship than fully comes across. Additionally the concept of infidelity may not work for all readers, although I personally thought it is handled very well and believable. Travis’ reasons and thought process make sense, especially considering his wife’s character, but again some readers don’t like any infidelity at all.
Mostly the short story works in offering an interesting tale but nothing more than that. The characters never really materialize and the entire lackluster feel extends to all of them and their actions. On the one hand I didn’t mind since it felt like a common small town without a lot of impetus to change and a slower pace. The characters felt honest in their actions, even if not especially exciting. I think some readers will find this lack of passion detrimental to their reading and the sex scenes are explicit but not especially steamy. Again this worked for me as an interesting story and wanting to read more from the author but I’d only recommend it to those readers looking for something with a slower pace and more authentic feel to small towns.