New Christmas-related novels will keep readers engaged
"Chasing Manhattan: A Novel" by John Gray. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2021). 284 pp., $22.
"Mr. Nicholas" by Christopher de Vinck. Paraclete Press (Brewster, Massachusetts, 2021). 160 pp., $20.
If the Hallmark Channel is in need of books on which to base Christmas movies, these two should be considered.
The sequel to "Chasing Manchester," "Chasing Manhattan" is about writer Chase Harrington's escaping the notoriety she attained in Vermont due to looking at stained-glass windows and seeing what others did not see -- people who were in trouble -- and then helping them.
When she wrote a book about her experience, she was inundated with others wanting her to look at church windows and to let them know about their loved ones. Overwhelmed by the onslaught but flush with money from her best-seller, she moves to New York City.
At first, she regularly makes quick visits to St. Patrick's Cathedral to view the windows to see if she can replicate the Vermont experience. She can't. Nonetheless, from autumn to December, with the help of her boyfriend, Gavin Bennett, she is involved in bettering the lives of multiple people and saving the lives of others.
How Gray develops the story, intertwining various characters with each other and various events, is what will keep readers engaged. Just as Chase saw things that weren't in the church windows, readers, through multiple plot twists, will see things they might not have anticipated, e.g., how Chase moves from a 900-square-foot Manhattan apartment to an estate worth millions of dollars.
These are not stand-alone occurrences. Gray uses them as anchors and transition points as readers experience the flow of the story.
"Chasing Manhattan" is not overtly religious. No one attends church, clues are not found in the Bible, and only once when they make a discovery does Gavin quietly say to her, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph."
However, early in the book during a conversation with her driver about her gift to see what others don't, Chase says, "Before Vermont, I'm not sure I even believed in God. I rarely went to church, so I keep asking myself the same question."
"Why you?" the driver responds.
"Exactly!" Chase replied. "Why me?"
Readers will be pleased with the answers.
"Mr. Nicholas" is a simple story that should touch even the hardest hearts. Much of the drama centers upon Anna and Jim Kelly, whose marital issues cause them to separate.
Their son JB has Down syndrome and lives with his mom during the week. He spends weekends with his dad, the story's narrator, who reluctantly loves his son but doesn't like him -- an "ugly, useless, confused set of chromosomes wiggled into the world, grew up to a useless 10-year-old boy, and ruined my life."
The other key character in the "small, intimate town" of Pompton Plains, New Jersey, is Mr. Nicholas, the hardware store owner who collects people's discards every Friday morning.
Townspeople, including Anna, have their doubts about Mr. Nicholas, wondering why he likes children and why he is so popular with them. Jim, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, looks for answers.
"Mr. Nicholas" is a panorama of love, estrangement, uncertainty, childlike vision, conversion and reconciliation. De Vinck blends them into a story that evokes gratitude -- an excellent Christmas gift to give and receive.
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Also of interest: "This Thing of Darkness" by Fiorella de Maria and K.V. Turley. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2021). 260 pp., $16.95.
"New Art: A Novel" by Dorothy Dunn. Raymond Press (Los Angeles, 2021). 402 pp., $17.95.
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Olszewski is editor of The Catholic Virginian, biweekly publication of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.