By: Michael Knight
Reviewed by: Anita Miller Garner
Grove Press, 2007
Anyone having recently survived the holidays will be charmed by Michael Knight’s sleek prose and quirky, stunning selection of details in this look at contemporary life on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Spanning the emotional minefield from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, these two novellas showcase Knight’s mastery using a form in which we could have predicted his expertise. (He has formerly won our hearts with his long short stories and a tight, precise, award-winning short novel).
In the first novella, The Holiday Season, Knight keeps the focus in one main character—a narrator reminiscent of Walker Percy’s Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer—as the author shows us the uncomfortable unraveling of family traditions when adult children start families of their own and parents age and die. Yet the tale and setting never become predictable. When the aging, morose father abruptly directs his son to drive to a suburban yard to see a four foot tall miniature replica of Graceland complete with a tiny Cadillac, Elvis’ version of “Spanish Harlem” plays from a speaker mounted on the side of the “nondescript brick rancher” twenty-four hours a day.
Love at the End of the Year, the second novella, could be a screenplay for an ensemble film. This fast-paced account of one New Year’s Eve in Mobile will convince you, no matter how dysfunctional your own holidays, that you actually dodged the juggernaut. Seasonal expectations spark a chain of events in the lives of these characters, who range in age from a boy who steals his father’s credit card number in order to access Internet pornography, to divorced parents attempting to put their lives back in order, to Miss Anita, the African American babysitter whose own sons are grown and gone and who carries a loaded pistol in her purse. Don’t worry that you’ve read some of these stories in other versions. Part of the delight is seeing how Knight takes multiple points of view and renders into fiction just how small the state of Alabama is, how “connected” our lives are, even in the twenty-first century.
The Holiday Season is not so much about the holiday season as it is about the changes in the structure of relationships and the dynamics of families. That it is set on our beloved Alabama Gulf Coast is lagniappe.
Anita Miller Garner writes and teaches in Florence.