I used to think that some young writer, looking for a way to finance a writing career, ought to craft a Christmas story, something along the lines of It’s A Wonderful Life, maybe, or Meet Me In St. Louis. A story, at any rate, to attract the attention of Hollywood—the idea being that since the same Christmas movies are shown year after year on TV, they ought to provide a continuing income for the writer. But no classic Christmas story is a cinch to write. However, now that Lacombe writer Fran Kimmel has come up with No Good Asking, her second novel and a humdinger of a Christmas story, I could almost believe again that my idea was not without merit.
Kimmel’s story is set in our own part of the world, where Christmas can come in with blizzards and black ice, and where, if a grave needs digging, fires must first be set to thaw the ground. As in the best Christmas stories, this one is about good people who are caught in a bad time, their lives in dire need of transformation. Enter the Nylands: Eric, who has resigned from the RCMP and returned to his boyhood home to care for his father, who has dementia; Eric’s wife, Ellie, who suggested the move but is now both overburdened and seriously depressed; their elder son, Daniel, who is going through the throes of adolescence; and their younger son, Sammy, an autistic kindergartner.
What comes into their lives as a possible transformative agent is a waif of a child named Hannah. In the tautly written opening paragraphs, Eric overtakes Hannah trudging along a remote country road, inadequately dressed for the cold. He soon establishes that she has been abused and is in need of a new home. As it is Christmas, there is no place ready to receive her and so she comes home with Eric, but only until Boxing Day.
From here on, the clock is ticking. The question is whether, before Hannah’s five days with the Nylands have elapsed, Ellie will be able to realize that Hannah could become the daughter she has always longed for.
Kimmel’s characters are lovingly drawn, from the autistic child who panics at any change in his surroundings, to the old man whose non sequiturs provide a touch of humour. Her scenery is evocative too. Here is Ellie, looking out her window at the wintry world: “Ellie stared at the tattered raven. She couldn’t understand the mechanics, how the bird stayed upright, its skinny claws attached to the wire. Or the cows out further in the Jorgenson field, bleached whales, still as ice sculptures. How did they endure it?”
Occasional bleakness aside, No Good Asking is a feel-good kind of story—exactly what every Christmas story should be.
—Merna Summers is an Edmonton writer.