Christmasville, a novel by Michael Dutton. Linden Park Publishers, Newport, RI. 2007. 225 pages. $18.95
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
At this time of year, with Epiphany only a few days away, a new novel entitled "Christmasville" provides an epiphany of sorts for its principal character, Mary Jane Higgins, a fourteen year old girl who sees and hears things others do not. Mary Jane has come to realize that being fourteen is not a career, that it should be a passing point in chronological time. In her small town where things seem to her to change oddly every year, she is always fourteen. The directions of streets may alter and the new maps may show her where her favorite places have been relocated, but she is sure, suddenly, that everything is wrong about the life she knows. She begins to seek answers and a route out of town, but they both elude her until almost the end of her natural year, January 31.
Mary Jane is special. She has been able to see past the borders of her town with eyes that clearly see that other places exist and that there may be a pathway to find them. As she exerts her energies and her intelligence in the direction of the answers she finds a few signposts, mostly within other people who harbor secrets, that can help her achieve her goal of getting away from Christmasville and discovering the other world that has been kept from her.
Mary Janeís world encompasses only two months, December and January. Each January 31 when she goes to sleep it is with the certainty that when she wakes up again it will be December 1 again and her life will resume in an eternal winter. Discovering a maple tree with buds on it gives her a strong hint that her instincts and understandings of the "other" world may be correct.
Magical Realism underscores this story of a girl whose long winter life is interrupted by this other reality. Beautifully told, the tale unfolds slowly as Mary Jane uncovers one clue after another and tries three times to make her escape into an uncertain future. Injury, disgrace, betrayal by a close friend - nothing stops her from her inevitability.
Dutton writes simply, so that children can enjoy the story, but with such complexity and deep understanding that adults will find this story as intriguing as their children. He creates characters with such delicious human traits that they emerge completely recognizable and vividly real. They are our neighbors and the merchants that we all deal with daily, and yet they have a special quality we donít necessarily find in our real lives. These people vividly enliven the book.
Treat yourself to a book unlike any other. Itís not an adventure in a mythical world where a child escapes through a wardrobe and confronts a lion and a witch. The people here inhabit their own town in their own world, just like ours with major gaps in it. These are the commonplace folk, the ordinary. The escape here is out of a favorite movie, a venue as unexpectedly available as can be. The adventure is the "wardrobe" essentially. The answer is almost frightening as Mary Jane comes face to face with the truth she has believed in for so very long.
Epiphany is not an easy reality. In "Christmasville" by Michael Dutton it is an inevitability.