‘Twas the Night Before: Chapters 12-14: Breakup and Crashdown

Noella is in the depths of despair following the I-believe-in-Santa breakup.  Understandable, I suppose. 

But remember, Noella has a terrific career that she loves.  From Chapter 1:

Noella loved being in her office.  She told herself she didn’t teach journalism, she taught students.  The more hours she spent in her office, the more contact she enjoyed with them.

This love is so great that Noella sits in her office all day on the day after Thanksgiving, the only faculty member to do so.

That is how dedicated she is.

Noella has called in sick on the eighth and ninth [of December], sent a message to her classes on the tenth saying they could study independently that day, then gave them Friday, the eleventh, off as her Christmas gift.  They left for the holidays.

Well, I’ll give it Jenkins: he did the research on the 1998 calendar.  The 11th of December was indeed a Friday that year. 

But, the rest.

Okay, I am not now and have never been a journalism student, undergraduate or grad, but do these students not have exams or final projects?  Can Noella really just check out for the month of December?  Is this the RTC view of “ivory-tower intellectuals”–that going to work is optional?

Apparently not, because Noella gets the following “nasty” phone message from Connie Ng, the department chair:

We don’t write our own schedules here.  If you have an emergency, you’ll find me more than accomodating.  I can’t help but wonder whether you simply sliced yourself a bigger piece of the holiday pie than your tenure warrants.  Better save some days for your honeymoon.

Okay, I am really trying to see this as “nasty,” but I am hard-pressed to think of a message that is kinder or gentler, given Noella’s actions.

(Oh, and can I say that I dislike the fact that the only characters who are probably non-white, Connie Ng and LaShawna Jackson, are negative, the one being the “nasty” department chair and the other the poor, pitiful, poverty-stricken single mom?)

Noella gets some sympathy from her “feminist” pal, Sue:

“It was my decision, Sue.  It wouldn’t have worked.  I’m sanguine.  He’s–”

“Oh, stop with that.  You’re the best thing that ever happened to him, and if that didn’t make him a more positive person–”

“I tried to make him something he wasn’t.”

“A man with half a brain would change for you, Noella.  One day he’ll realize–”

“Sue, I need you not to think ill of Tom.”

Yeah, real feminist, that Sue.  Men should change for women.  I’d say that this was Jenkins’ own little Straw Feminist, but turns out that Sue is right, and Tom will have to change for Noella, so…

Meanwhile, Tom is depressed and turns in a “mediocre” column.  His editor, Walt, calls him into the office, but instead of dressing him down, says he needs to cure his depression by getting out of the city.  He suggests that Tom use a trip to write his annual Christmas piece.

Tom seems to crawl out of his funk, at least a bit, as he researches Christmas traditions.  He wants to go to the Black Forest in Germany and interview people about Kris Kringle.  So the paper flies him to Germany.  I have no idea if this is remotely plausible, but it does sound like an awesome paid vacation.

Is this gorgeous or what?  Picture from Das Seegerhaus.

(This is not presented as important, but it appears that Tom speaks not a word of German.  How he is going to get these interviews without an interpreter, I’m sure I don’t know.  I have heard that many Germans speak excellent English, but is Tom really counting on that from every German person he wishes to interview?)

While Tom is winging to Germany, Noella is interviewing the single father with three kids.  Although we were told that the dad teaches the kids that Santa is just a myth, the youngest child and only girl, Betsy, really believes.  She and Noella bond over this.  Sorta.

“I wrote him when I was little.” [Noella said]

“What did he bring you?” [Betsy asked]

Noella showed her the necklace.

“Did you ask for it?”


“I bet your daddy got you that.”

“It was Santa.”

“Nuh-uh.  Not if you didn’t ask for it.”

Oh, SNAP!  Noella just got told!  By a second-grader!

In case you are wondering: Betsy, despite her brothers’ teasing, is asking Santa for only one thing: a restful holiday season for her father, who works very hard.


Back in Germany, Tom gets a charter flight into the Black Forest.  It is just him, the pilot, and two Canadian businessmen delivering a printing press.  To the Black Forest. 

I guess people in the Black Forest need Canadian printing presses, too.

Tom falls asleep on the flight, and wakes up to find that the plane is crashing.

And I know this will shock you all, but Tom is the only survivor.

Tomorrow: Tom’s survival techniques, and his (heh) unlikely saviors.


Posted on December 19, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. *headdesk*

    Okay, I suppose I should make some more useful comment than that, but oh dear lord, this is such a mess of WTF.

    What happens at a college immediately before winter break? FINALS. At every college, ever. I suppose Noella could teach at the one special snowflake college, but I seriously doubt it. By taking a week off for self-induced heartbreak, she’s royally screwing her students. I have no clue what a college would do if someone did that. I’m sure colleges have had to deal with seriously ill instructors or instructors with family emergencies, but with Noella not even telling them she’s making it really hard for the college to fix things for her students.

    I have trouble believing a paper would send someone out of the country to write a Christmas column, but, hey, compared to everything else here, I’ll buy it.

    What I won’t buy is that a kid in a household that doesn’t lie about Santa would believe in Santa. Why would they? It makes no sense. Sure, Santa is everywhere in pop culture, but so’s Lady Gaga. Of course, I was a kid raised by parents who treated such things as myth – though we never did the Santa thing because I hated the Santa myth. Hated. Not the idea of a kindly old man who brought kids presents, no, what I hated was the idea of a judgmental peeping tom creepo who only brought presents to good little boys and girls. If “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” isn’t meant as some kind of holiday horror, you could’ve fooled me. (I didn’t believe in that Santa, either, mind, but what a horrible, horrible lie to tell to kids. I might have been a smidge precocious. I was also being raised by atheists.) Though I do find it hilarious that even a kid who supposedly also believes in Santa doesn’t believe Noella’s silly thing about the necklace.

    As far as the plane crash goes, all I can say is that at least Jenkins didn’t kill off an entire passenger jet full of people for his hero’s change of heart. But, as an aviation enthusiast (and viewer of air disaster specials), I kinda want to smack him for using a holiday plane crash at all.

    (That’s not to say that people should never put plane crashes in fiction, but somehow this use of a disaster bothers me. Maybe it’s the creation of people to kill off just to isolate the hero and have him see the light. I don’t know. It just… grates.)

    • I kinda want to smack him for using a holiday plane crash at all

      And as usual its not even necessary. Tom is an American visiting the Black Forest. He could EASILY rent a car, try to drive somewhere, get mixed up in a snowstorm, and end up stranded in some remote part of the area with NO HORRIBLE DEATHS NEEDED.

      Sorry for shouting but I can’t stand the casual dismissal of other people’s pain and suffering that seems required of every Jenkin’s nove – even the lighthearted rom-com for cryrin’ out loud.

  2. And I wrote a novel. Sorry about that.

  3. “It was my decision, Sue. It wouldn’t have worked. I’m sanguine. He’s–”

    “Oh, stop with that. You’re the best thing that ever happened to him, and if that didn’t make him a more positive person–”

    “I tried to make him something he wasn’t.”

    “A man with half a brain would change for you, Noella. One day he’ll realize–”

    Damn it, Sue! Noella was on the verge of realizing that maybe, just maybe, manipulating people instead of accepting them for who they are is a bad idea. She’s on the verge of the most important realization of her life, something far more important to her future relationships than the existence or lack thereof of Santa Claus, and you’re pushing her away from enlightenment.

    The correct response to someone like Noella saying, “I tried to make him something he wasn’t,” would be something more like:

    “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Look on the bright side, at least now you know not to do that next time.” I don’t pretend that that’s the best way to put it, I don’t know what the best way to put it is, but when a manipulative person realizes that manipulation is a bad thing I don’t think you should be pushing back on that.

    She’s come to the edge of enlightenment and if left alone will go all the way, now is not the time to tackle her to halt her forward progress.

  4. And I figured out why the plane crash thing bothers me. There’s no reason for it. Jenkins could just as easily have had Mr. I-Go-To-Cafes-In-Blizzards drive his rental car off a road in a snow storm.

  5. But Sue is a Feminist and they’re incapable of seeing where the man might be right and the woman wrong, don’tcha know?!?! 😛

    As for finals week… At my school most professors could have skipped it without much effect at all, and some did- by having a TA administer a test, or making our “final” a paper rather than a sit-down exam, which I guess would make sense enough for writing students. But that’s a big stretch here where it’s pretty clearly implied that she was missing actual classes, not exam periods… Which I guess is also weird, why are the students going home without ever taking finals…? Gah, any attempt to fix it makes it worse…

  6. Y’know… It’s been discussed earlier how it seems like Jenkins might be making a serious effort with this book to write specifically for a female audience, and that this is his attempt at a low-key, breezy romantic fantasy for women. It’s also been a consistent observation over the years that when he intends for a character to be sympathetic and identifiable for the audience, they invariably turn out to be deeply unpleasant people, often having serious problems with interpersonal power dynamics.

    Given the above, I’m wondering if Noe’s attention-seeking, manipulative, demanding personality is a result of Jenkins’ trying to write an appealing heroine for women to project themselves onto; if Noe, in other words, is Jenkins’ critique of women, and what women ultimately want from love. At first, this seemed weird and counterintuitive to me (If a specific character is supposed to be sympathetic, why would you write them as being terrible people?) but then I remembered that Jenkins has made huge sums of money by writing “heroes” who are slimy, reprehensible monsters, and after that, it didn’t seem so far-fetched.

  7. inquisitiveraven

    To be fair to Jenkins (yes, I’m actually saying that), the Black Forest region isn’t just forest. There’s apparently quite a few towns and villages, and at least one city with a population totaling close to four million. And the region has airports (There doesn’t seem to be an English language version of that page). Now, having said that, if I were traveling in Europe, I’d probably take the high speed trains for most of it.

    Now, getting back to dumping on the man, I found his personal web page. There’s a faq which includes a question on his educational background. While he claims to have attended college, and have several honorary doctorates, I saw no indication that he actually has any real honest to FSM degrees that he earned by finishing the coursework, and writing the research papers. This may explain a lot. I wonder just how much attention he paid to the way that colleges and universities actually work while he was attending.

  8. Hmm. I’ve never been to the Black Forest myself, so I don’t know how sparsely populated it is. But I’m not sure if even a small plane could just vanish there. I was amazed to hear that during the search for Steve Fossett’s crashed plane in the desert in the US, they actualy found a lot of other crashed planes they’d never found from years ago. I know that in the Netherlands, there’s no more than 10 places where even a small plane could crash without anyone hearing it go down and seeing the wreck, unless you count the IJselmeer, the big sea-turned-lake in the center. I know that when flying from the Netherlands to Geneva, which takes you close to the black forest, you can never look out the window without seeing multiple villages below you. And the radar coverage is pretty solid here. Search and Rescue should, I think, be over the crashsite within hours. But… it is a mountanous and woodland area, so I don’t know, perhaps you can aim your crash at a hard-to-find spot. But I doubt Jenkins even bothered with thinking of this. He probably just assumed if you can crash and not be found in the U.S., it’ll work the same in Europe.

    • I dread finding out how long Jenkins thinks the plane crash can go unnoticed. Like you mention, wooded mountainous areas can make finding even large air crashes difficult, but we don’t really lose non-private planes even here in the US.

      Which brings me to something I didn’t notice last night: why did Tom take a charter flight? A quick on line search turned up five major airports that serve the Black Forest. Major, as in airlines go there. Also two smaller airports, one of which would appear to have regular commuter type service. Why the charter flight?

      Second odd thing I didn’t think of last night: why is the plane crashing? Tom was asleep, so I feel fairly safe ruling out bad weather – though this is Tom, who thinks nothing of blizzards – and any sort of noisy equipment failure. We don’t know what kind of plane we’re talking about, but if it’s big enough to carry a printing press (wait, what?) I assume it’s a twin engine something. Most likely kind of crash then is controlled flight into terrain, which is most likely to happen on approach or if they were seriously off course (or got their altitude wrong). Can’t be on approach or he wouldn’t get to wander in the woods, so… why is his plane way off course and crashing into an unexpected mountain?

  9. If you need to change, or for the other person to change, to have a relationship… find someone else. Even if the sex (sorry, hand-holding) is truly amazing.

    I’m reminded of Dave Barry commenting that writing about his holidays has made them a very important thing for him: a legitimate business expense.

    There’s ATC radar coverage over pretty much all of Germany, at least at high altitudes. Does the type of plane get mentioned? Even something pretty small would have a transponder and a flight plan, and unless the terrain is particularly lumpy I’d expect its position to be known at all times. Europe mostly doesn’t have the huge empty spaces that Americans take for granted.

    • Heh, I love Dave Barry. And yes, I remember when he went to Japan, he mentioned that Japan can be expensive, and said that the important thing, when vacationing there, was to make sure Random House paid for the whole thing. 😀

  10. When I was in Germany, I found that while many people did speak English, they tended to judge you pretty harshly if you didn’t approach them speaking German. Same issue in France, though less so in Spain and Italy.

  11. In case you are wondering: Betsy, despite her brothers’ teasing, is asking Santa for only one thing: a restful holiday season for her father, who works very hard.

    Does it make me particularly twisted that my first thought when reading this was, “Oh my! Santa’s going to have her father killed in a Monkey’s Paw-like twist of darkly ironic wish-fulfillment!”

    Okay, not too likely in a Jenkins’ tale.

  12. What’s he doing researching the origins of Santa Claus in Germany? I can think of two MUCH better places to start.

    1. Turkey, the area of the world where the story of St. Nicholas actually started. (Or would this require Jenkins to think positively of Orthodox Christians? Well, LaHaye is the one I’d expect to see Orthodoxes as merely crypto-Catholics, and likewise judge them guilty, but from Soon’s timbre, I’d not be surprised if Jenkins had similar views.)

    2. The Netherlands, where we have our first manifestation of the Deeder of Children’s Toys in the form of Sinterklaas.

    • Tom actually mentions both these locations in passing. He thinks that if the whole Germany thing goes well, he’ll go to Holland next year.

      • …His paper funds him to fly around Europe to cover various possible origins of the Santa myth?

        …How do I get in on that kind of massive money-wasting? I mean, the paper’ll go under in a year, tops, but I wouldn’t mind getting a free trip to Iceland out of it…

        • To clarify: It’s clear they funded him once, but this is a multi-year thing? Every winter he gets to go to some other place to debunk their Santa myths? Eeesh.

          • In all due fairness to Tom (who still holds the prize for Most Likeable LaJenkinsian hero) he volunteers to pay for anything the paper can’t pay for. I think (though it is not stated explicitly) that he pays for the charter flight over the Black Forest.

            Not that it helps. 😉

  13. I think (though it is not stated explicitly) that he pays for the charter flight over the Black Forest.

    Because taking a charter flight is ever so much cheaper than an airline ticket, a bus ticket, a train ticket, and a rental car. Why do I seriously doubt this?

    Actually, in playing around with the above question, I’ve discovered that a) there are no airports in the Black Forest proper and b) that of the airports in Baden-Wurttemberg, he could’ve flown into Germany at three of them (he did, in fact, if he was in Stuttgart) and would more sensibly have taken a train to the remaining two from whatever city he did fly into. I can’t seem to find any data on flying between cities in Baden-Wurttemberg, presumably because the train (or driving, this is not a huge chunk of land we’re talking about here) is the way to go.

    Do research, Jenkins, you twit!

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