If the five and a half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas turn you into a attention-deficit stress monkey, then a novella might be just the thing. The commitment of a few minutes a day (just keep it in the bathroom, or next to the bed) is enough to guarantee completing the text (no War and Peace undertakings here) and the rewards from escaping into fiction are great. Stress reduced, focus restored and — in the case of The Holiday Season (Grove Atlantic, 2007) by Michael Knight — a renewed sense of seasonal wonder.
Knight, who directs the creative writing program at the University of Tennessee, obviously knows a thing or two about the selection and combining of words. Though Season is a mere 195 pages including acknowledgments, every sentence shines with the high polished stamp of a seasoned writer. Knight’s relishing of words and phrases is apparent, and even though the story edges toward hipness (the main character is an actor, there’s an eccentric Francophile, a lawyer brother who gifts his twin girls with ponies, for the love of God, and a not-so-gracefully aging father) it’s told with such quiet, unhurried style that it could be shelved between Somerset Maugham and Walker Percy.
“Elsewhere, even at that late hour, Elvis was crooning to a tiny simulacrum of his life,” Knight writes in one lushly elegant passage. Simulacrum! Somewhere, in some incarnation, Hemmingway gnashes his teeth in envy.
Season, actually a collection of two longish short stories, is subtly melancholy and reluctantly sentimental. There’s the landscape of breathless cold, of unexpected snow, of the deep South in the hush of winter. There’s the darkness of a father succumbing to the inertia of grief cast against the almost garish display of colored lights, lavish gifts and a bounty of food. It’s a story of family, of ties and grudges, but even more it’s a poetic retelling of time passing and the golden moments squeezed from the mundane. Which, after all, is what the holiday season is: Ordinary life with the volume turned all the way up, reaching for the most glamor, sparkle, joy and thrill before the New Year is upon us and we’re cast to the dreary trudge of winter.
But Knight’s Season is neither dreary nor trudging. If anything, it’s (like Christmas) too quickly over. The good news is there are other reads from this author: Novel Divining Rod, and short story collections Dog Fight and Other Stories and Goodnight, Nobody. Knight won the New Writing Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Special Citation, both in 1999, and the Henfield Foundation Award for Fiction in 1996.
Michael Knight reads from The Holiday Season at Malaprop’s on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m. Free. 254-6734.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter