Christmas Town: Chapter 1

I’m looking forward to this one.

I’m serious.  I really am.  And for several reasons:

1.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, I honestly love Christmas stuff.  I look forward to my Wintermas reviews every year.  (Well, granted, this is only the second year I’ve done them…BUT EVEN SO)

2.  I also really enjoy romance novels.  And this is a CHRISTMAS ROMANCE.

3.  And let’s be honest here: almost anything will look good after The Case for Christmas.

So, let’s go for it, in the spirit of Wintermas!

Christmas Town is a Love Inspired book from Steeple Hill, which means it’s a Christian (or “Inspirational”) romance.  I’ve read a few before, and they generally follow the traditional romance novel arc, but Christian faith is a plot point—often, one half of the couple helps the other half move from lapsed Christian to practicing Christian.  (In my limited experience, it is more usually the woman who is already a believer, but I’d love to do a survey in the future and find out if my personal impression is borne out in the numbers.)

All 122 pairs of eyes in the basement fellowship hall of the church watched in riveted silence as the black Lincoln glided down Main Street.  The only pair of eyes that held even a tiny spark of hope was the honey-flecked brown pair belonging to Joella Ratchford.

Wait.

Wait a second.

Joella?

IS THAT LIKE NOELLA???

I am officially freaked out.

image

Am I going to have to do a book with a character whose name ends with -oella EVERY WINTERMAS???

Dude.

Okay, okay, so 122 people manage to watch from a basement as a car goes by.  This car belongs to Jordan Scoville, who is the prodigal son of the family that owns the mill that basically employs the whole town.  Except the mill is out of money, which means that everyone is probably out of a job.

The town, by the way, is Bethlehem, South Carolina, also called CHRISTMAS TOWN because of the bitchin’ light show they have every year.

Also Dickensian carolling!

But now it’s all going to shit, and no one believes in the miracles of the Wintermas season except Noella Joella:

“Come on, everybody,” she said, her tone close to pleading.  “Don’t any of you believe it when Reverend Martin says the Lord will provide?”

I guess they’re just not Christian enough for that.

“Shoot-fire, Joella,” Eben Ford finally said.  “What’re we supposed to do?  The Scovilles are outta money.  That means the mill’s outta money.  The whole town’s outta money.”

Shoot-fire???  LANGUAGE, Eben!  Goddammit.

Joella pleads her case, which includes for everyone to keep working and not look for work anywhere else (um, WHY can’t they start looking?), and almost as retaliation, the rest of the basement crew informally elects Joella to represent the mill hands at the bankruptcy proceedings.

(Of course they’re not unionized.  Don’t be ridiculous.)

But no one’s in much of a Christmas spirit:

“Let us all remember that this is a holiday for miracles,” added the Reverend Martin.

“By golly, a miracle’s just what it’s gonna take,” Eben Ford said.

I swear to God, Eben, I am going to wash your fucking mouth out with soap if you keep this up.

***

Meanwhile, Jordan Scoville is sitting down to start working out the fate of the mill.  It kinda sucks to be him, because his father and uncle are basically Uncle Billys incarnate, and his now-dead mother was a hard-nosed, snooty bitch, so now there’s nobody but Jordan around to clean up the messes.

Uncle Billy

Jordan also hates the whole Christmas Town thing, because he feels it’s too extravagent and…

…it was bought and paid for by his parents, [not] a product of anybody’s real Christmas spirit.

At least he doesn’t hate it because his mother once told him that Santa Claus wasn’t for real.  So there’s that.

Jordan sits down with Venita, the secretary who raised him more than his own mother did.  But his mom apprently wasn’t all bad: she hired Venita, a black woman, because she was the most qualified for the job…more qualified than the white girl she was apparently supposed to hire.

And Venita drops the REALLY bad news: there’s no retirement fund left for anybody at the mill.

They really DO need a Christmas miracle!

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Posted on December 8, 2012, in Books, Christmas, Christmas Town. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. So, our not-yet-saved male protagonist doesn’t sound like a total asshole this time around. I think Tom Douten still holds the records for least unlikable protagonist on this site, but that’s mostly because his competition sucks so badly. Lets see if this guy is going to top the bar, even if the only way to go below the bar involves digging.

    And if god is going to go out of his way to save the mill from bankruptcy, then let us remember the important message: Everyone who ever lost their job when their employer went belly-up is just not special enough to be helped by god. So suck on that, unemployed readers.

  2. Ohhh, where to begin?

    Well, obviously the basement is big enough to fit 122 people without violating any fire codes. On second thought, there are enough of/big enough windows that everyone could see the street so perhaps that’s how they get around building codes.

    “Come on, everybody,” she said, he tone close to pleading.

    Anyone else have flashbacks to South Park’s Woodland Critter Christmas?

    The hero’s last name is “Scoville.” Is that supposed to be a reference to “ScoFIELD”? As in, the Scofield Bible that kick-started the Rapture beliefs? . . . And as for “Jordan” . . . that’s too easy. (“Jordan and Joella” — a little repetitive but just so long as they don’t follow the Duggars and name all their kids with J names also, I’ll let it go.)

    Eben? Venita? What’s with the names in this book?!?! (“Venita” . . . oh, please please please tell me that’s not supposed to be a reference to “venitae adoremus!”)

  3. …Huh. I’m not sure most of the stuff I find hilarious about poorly-written romances would be allowed in a Christian one. This should be different.

  4. ‘Course they’re not unionised. They’re good Christians! And I’m sure I’m not the only person getting a vibe of “stick with your GodEmployer in the bad times, don’t go off trying to make your own life better”.

    Grammar Police, fire codes only apply to buildings where fires might start accidentally – buildings occupied by the Unsaved, in fact.

    I was hoping to get a list of books and blurbs, but Steeple Hill don’t seem to have a proper web site.

  5. Is this the end of Twinkies in Bethlehem???

    Or wait, is this just a boring old steel mill?

  6. Okay, I have some questions:

    If the father and uncle are both incompetent, and the Prodigal Son Jordan only just now got back to town, who’s been running the mill? Did his mother die only recently? And if not, are Father and Uncle Billy’s handling of the mill blamed for it about to go under, or is that just ignored?

    The church that Joella is in at the start of the novel, the one with 122 people in its basement, is that the one that most of the town goes to, since in these stereotypical small towns everyone always goes to the same church? Or are the writers so used to thinking of “real” Christians as a persecuted minority that they can’t imagine the concept of their Godly protagonist going to a church that more than only a very small sliver of the people around her attend?

    • My answers are based only on Chapter 1, since I’m doing this one blind!

      If the father and uncle are both incompetent, and the Prodigal Son Jordan only just now got back to town, who’s been running the mill?

      Father and uncle, the Uncle Billys.

      Did his mother die only recently? And if not, are Father and Uncle Billy’s handling of the mill blamed for it about to go under, or is that just ignored?

      She died ten years ago. And yes, it looks like the Uncle Billys are directly to blame for what is going down, though it’s early days yet.

      The church that Joella is in at the start of the novel, the one with 122 people in its basement, is that the one that most of the town goes to, since in these stereotypical small towns everyone always goes to the same church? Or are the writers so used to thinking of “real” Christians as a persecuted minority that they can’t imagine the concept of their Godly protagonist going to a church that more than only a very small sliver of the people around her attend?

      It looks like this is just the “quaint” sort of small town where “everyone” goes to the same church. But we’ll see.

  7. Does it mean that we’re off to a good – or bad – start that there’s rather a lot of “Wait, what?” in this chapter?

    122 people in a basement watching a car go by…and does this mean the guy’s going to work on Sunday?

    “The Scovilles are outta money. That means the mill’s outta money. The whole town’s outta money.”

    That’s… not really the order these things work in. I’m sure it wasn’t intended, but that order makes it sound like the money goes from the Scovilles to the mill to the town. The only way that would happen is if the mill was a money laundering outfit. Separating the Scovilles from their mill just does really weird things here.

    Also…if the entire town is dependent on the mill (They don’t charge for being Christmas Town? Maybe they should try cashing in on tourism there…), there won’t be other jobs people can look for – not without leaving town.

    there’s no retirement fund left for anybody at the mill.

    Doesn’t that mean someone embezzled the money?

    • Doesn’t that mean someone embezzled the money?

      I don’t know, Mr. Scoville just told me to come and say there’s no retirement fund left at the mill, that’s all! I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition!”

    • Either embezzled or did something that’s technically legal but had the same effect – and there’s quite a lot that falls into that category.

      • Either way, it doesn’t seem like the book should be treating it as if the retirement fund just somehow… vanished. It did not vanish itself, book.

    • The most charitable explanation I can think of is that the Scovilles have been running the mill at a loss, presumably hoping the downturn was just temporary and they’d return to profitability any day now and also not wanting to close down what is apparently the town’s primary source of employment, but the lack of profit has been going on long enough that the family’s plowed all their own money, and the retirement fund, and any other source of cash they could lay their hands on, into keeping the place running.

      So the dad and uncle were clearly failing hard at the business of running a mill, but it could easily be well-meaning incompetence rather than out-and-out theft.

      • The problem is – and I could be wrong about this – I don’t think it’s legal for a business to take the retirement fund. At least not without doing some interesting and highly immoral things that you can’t do by accident.

        That’s not to say that highly incompetent and clueless people might not raid the retirement fund of their business anyway, just that I have this funny feeling that the book doesn’t realize they’ve probably committed some crime by doing so.

  8. [The Christmas Town theme] was bought and paid for by his parents, [not] a product of anybody’s real Christmas spirit.

    there’s no retirement fund left for anybody at the mill

    My spider sense is tingling.

  9. Recent lurker who’s been devouring your reviews, and first-time commenter. Hi!

    This is super late, I know, but for reference for future readers, it sounds like the Bethlehem of the book is a mashup of Bethlehem and McAdenville. Both are small towns in North Carolina, and McAdenville is known as Christmas Town USA. A yarn company picks up the electric bill for the lights, but all the labor is done by volunteers. (And the town is exactly the sort of small town — population 651 — that would fit right into a Christian romance.)

    • Welcome Persephone.

      I wonder if McAdenville’s residents would also threaten to string up the company’s executive’s son with his own product if it turns out the executives fucked up.

    • Hi Persephone, and welcome!

      Cool theory–thanks!

      I wonder if…if the company didn’t do the lights one year, some squatters would secretly buy up all those lights and hang them themselves??? 😉

      • Oh man, I just finished reading the entire deconstruction. Close enough to Spartanburg and Greenville to make quick trips? A textile mill (as opposed to, say, a steel mill)? Plus the Christmas lights? Yeah, this is a thinly-disguised McAdenville.

        Speaking of which, McAdenville doesn’t charge for its Christmas displays — never has. People generally drive slowly down the main street and then leave. (The houses on that street are required by HOA rules to decorate, in addition to the town decorations, so it’s pretty spectacular.)

        I’m sure the town makes some small change from food sales (mostly the fast food places near the interstate), but they don’t make any other money from it.

        On a quick search, I couldn’t find anything about the author Peggy Gilchrist, but I’d bet money she’s from North or South Carolina. The book may be horrible, but she did a pretty good job with the cultural aspects of the area.

        The Piedmont area of NC/SC used to have a lot of textile mills, till they mostly went to China in the 80s and 90s — ruining the economy of lots of small towns in the process. (See also: furniture factories.) McAdenville is home to one of the few mills still standing, and I can certainly see how people would panic at losing it.

        (The ridiculous excusal of the “honest mistakes” of the old men and anger at the slick big-city businessman is entirely typical, too. “Uncle Billy may have run the mill into the ground, but his aunt was our kids’ Sunday school teacher, and they’re good people.”)

        To be fair, keep in mind that in the culture Gilchrist is writing about, there must have been a lot of people who spent their entire lives working at the mills and not even realizing those mills were being sold. Most of those people would have been unaware of the finances of those mills, and which multinational conglomerate now owned it.

        So suddenly the city slickers were coming in and Uncle Billy was getting tossed out on his ear, and half the employees were being “fired” just shy of retirement and the rest were being laid off. I can see how that would result in people panicking and blaming the outsider.

        (Sorry for the braindump on an old post — I’m just fascinated by how familiar this feels, as a native of that area. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for that culture, but on this one thing, I get it and am kind of impressed that Gilchrist captured a little of that in her writing, despite getting basically everything else wrong.)

  1. Pingback: Deconstruction Round Up, December 14th 2012 « The Slacktiverse

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