Christmas Presence from 45 Western North Carolina women writers
edited by Celia H. Miles and Nancy Dillingham (Catawba Publishing Company trade paperback, Oct. 2008, 221 pages, $18).
Despite taking up only a few days of the year, memories of Christmas have equal weight with summer vacation and the whole rest of the year in mountain people's minds. Christmas Presence
portrays what Nancy Dillingham recalls as the simplicity of gifts and the sturdiness and generosity of spirit in the local tradition. The book also serves as an introduction to women writers, experienced and novice, in the area. Most of the pieces, all of which are short, adopt a memoir-writing voice; and reveal the degree to which each author is able to go beyond the goldenness of a moment to fill in the shadows, depth, and detail. Sherry Austin's piece stands out. She creates a character, an older woman named Trixie, who interacts with her TV while she prepares Christmas dinner and comments on various things. MariJo Moore writes classically surprising and concise haiku-like poems about birds and trees glimpsed on Christmas Night. Susan Snowden's story delights so much in character and details--a girl's horror at a haircut imposed on her--that her glow is vividly unsentimental. A few of the pieces effectively recall the Great Depression, the archetypal American time of Christmas spirit. There's a powerful theme here for coming times--how to reclaim good news from reduced circumstances; and it is one that might deserve a book of its own.