Lamb makes a reference to one of my favorite Saints on the first page, Dymphna. Naming a nun for Dymphna is interesting, and it had me wondering whether the reference implied incest or mental illness; either way, I knew that Lamb had a deeper meaning loaded in there. One does not simply name a character for a Saint with no allusion intended. Unfortunately, she’s not present for much of the novel itself.
In high school I fell in love with Wally Lamb’s fiction, starting with The Hour I First Believed, and catapulting myself on to read I Know This Much Is True, and later She’s Come Undone. I haven’t read We Are Water yet, though it is sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently. I’ve yet to pick up any of his nonfiction for myself, though I did gift a copy of one of the essay collections to a good friend last Christmas.
I chose to go ahead and read Wishin’ and Hopin’ because it’s a novel about Christmas, and it is, indeed, Christmas time. If I’m being honest, I haven’t been able to find the spirit this year. 2016 had been a tumultuous year for most of us, one that I’m not sorry to say goodbye to, and in turn it has been one that didn’t leave me much room for celebration. I picked up Wishin’ and Hopin’ with the goal to find some joy.
Lamb’s writing is so easy to read; it’s not easy in that it’s too simple, it’s easy in that his wit and diction are complex while still reading seamlessly. Because of this writing skill, I was two thirds into the book before I realized we’d yet to get to Christmas. Aside from the everyday goings-on of a 5th grader’s life, little of note had really happened in the story itself, either.
I will say that I’m not overly fond of such a young protagonist for a novel, especially one that’s not listed solely as YA.
The story is set in 1964, so civil rights was one of the first things to come to mind from the era. Lamb doesn’t address it much, other than going back and forth between calling the one boy in the class “colored” and then correcting it later, saying “black or Afro-American.” This one student in the catholic school also has a tagline: “Wait’ll the NAACP hears about this!” a nod to Sammy Davis Jr’s comment at the 1964 Oscars.
My favorite section of the book was the Epilogue; though it’s a work of fiction, I liked hearing the brief complexities that Lamb had molded their lives into. If only I felt the same way about the book itself…
I give the book 5/10.
Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story (Hardcover)