In this latest offering from novelist Mooney (A Box of Chocolates, 2014, etc.), miracle upon Christmas miracle visits the small town of Woodstock, Vermont. Jack Reynolds, a native son returning home for the season, is an Iraq War veteran mourning his MIA brother and struggling with his needy, big-city girlfriend. Hope Caldwell, meanwhile, is a schoolteacher with a new job in Woodstock, where she has come to sort out the broken pieces of her past. Soon, the two team up to spread Christmas magic throughout the town, beginning by delivering a batch of misplaced Christmas cards from the year before. Serendipitous coincidences and holiday clichés abound: Every card happens to hold monumentally good news for its recipient, and between them, Jack and Hope carry out just about every good deed imaginable, from preventing a suicide to rescuing a doomed puppy. The story is so thoroughly saccharine that a happy ending seems predestined from the start, and any attempts at narrative conflict—the trouble caused by Jack’s insufferable girlfriend, for example—feel too manufactured to generate much suspense. Similarly, the writing often strays into triteness, especially in the voices of down-home characters. In one instance, Jack smiles and thinks to himself: “That’s the way it is in Vermont, neighbors helping neighbors.” The novel is staunchly nostalgic throughout, painting a simplistic picture of a storybook town where nothing ever changes and all wrongs are righted by the wonders of a traditional New England Christmas. Mooney succeeds, however, in conjuring a vivid sense of a town at its most joyful, and his captivating descriptions of Woodstock and its celebrations are a notable strength. Additionally, the realistic, nuanced depictions of veterans and their struggles provide the story with some much-needed gravity. While lacking in overall narrative depth and character development, the book remains a charming glimpse into an idyllic winter wonderland, which will likely please readers looking for a feel-good holiday escape.
Pretty as freshly fallen snow, and just as fluffy.