It’s been several weeks since I’ve read “The Christmas Miracle,” by Rebecca Curtis, which appeared in the December 23 & 30, 2013, issue of The New Yorker. It’s a pity because I ended up liking the story immensely, though I didn’t think I would, which is a refreshing change from, well, not liking stories I’ve been reading.
The story is quite long and written in that sort of casual, jokey, a-little-too-pleased-with-its-own-cleverness tone that is at once immediately engaging as well as a bit tiresome. Sometimes the jokes don’t come off. You wonder what kind of trick Curtis is trying to pull, having the narrator addressing the story the whole time to an unknown Russian Communist lover referred to as “K.” (Is this a reference to Kafka, who popularized that initial?)
I will love an entire story just for its ending–that is, because the ending sends shivers down my spine. That happened with One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it happened (to a smaller degree) with this story. And Curtis couldn’t have pulled it off without including this mysterious K. It is K who makes the piece special, who flips our perspective on it at the end, the final paragraph, when we think nothing more can be said that’s significant, except the One Thing, and that’s what she writes. Let me quote the final paragraph in its entirety:
Some say that those born between December 22nd and January 19th carry existential sadness within them. They say that Capricorns are at the end of their line; everything they want to do, they have to do within this life. Perhaps that’s why they’re stubborn plodders who’ll trek step by tiny step to reach their goals. I’m a hundred per cent sure that, as a Russian Communist, K, you’ll say that that’s bunk, and that I should never mention astrology in a story again. For what it’s worth, I write to you as one child of winter to another.
Ah, that last phrase “one child of winter to another” juxtaposed against the more casual “bunk.” It is the climax of what Curtis has been doing the entire story, alternating between jocular and serious in a sort of uncontrollable, manic hysteria. But this paragraph is silent. It occurs in a snow globe of contemplation and peace. Before I got to these last lines I was already formulating my opinion: “Well, the story’s all right. It’s not bad. I enjoyed it. But I’m not going to seek her out, you know? I’m not going to go looking for other things she’s written.” Isn’t that the litmus? Whether or not you want more? But now I want more. I’m excited by her. And just because of those last lines!
Earlier I thought she made too much of the “Bartonella made me do this, I wanted to say this, but Bartonella said that instead.” Too cute and overdone. Even the serious was made unserious. All the action unraveled under a fog of Bartonella and an IV high, as if screaming, “I’m entertaining, no?!”
Anyway, if you’re going to have a narrator losing control, self-destructively devolving into a fuckup who says cruel things she doesn’t mean and alienates her loved ones, you might as well do it humorously. Anything else would be too self-pitying. So I don’t blame Curtis for the tone, appreciate it even, though it feels somehow too familiar, as if I’d read this kind of thing before. I can still enjoy it, but my mind gets tired of running over the same track.
But that ending paragraph is new. Essential. Refreshing. It serves as an anchor, the weight that keeps the helium balloon from floating into the trees.
Biographical note: Rebecca Curtis appears to be attached to Adam Desnoyers, author of “Bleed Blue in Indonesia,” which I discussed in an earlier post.