Form trumps content in this slight holiday package from Landvik (The View from Mount Joy, 2007, etc.).
The story unfolds through a series of e-mails and notes, as a debauched heiress leaves her life of tabloid embarrassments for a state of sober normalcy. Though the tale has a certain lurid interest—think Paris and Britney, shaken and served—the method of conveyance doesn’t do the novel any favors; the prose is about as elegant as the average e-mail. Through exchanged missives, we learn of 26-year-old Caroline Dixon, rich, beautiful and usually drunk (a kind of holy trinity for the world’s paparazzi). Interspersed are updates on Caro’s exploits from the gossip column “Here’s Buzz,” which is cruel and, of course, quite popular. She winds up in rehab and afterward reaches out to those she’s hurt. Most of her flimsy friendships evaporate, but she gets encouraging responses from two ghosts from her past: Cyril, the owner of an Arizona dude ranch she visited at 13, and Astrid, her Norwegian nanny. Truth be told, they need Caro as much as she needs them. Widowed Cyril has lost all interest in people, and Astrid is holed up on a tiny Norwegian island, hoping that seclusion will protect her from any future pain. The trio have three-way communiqués, pour out their respective souls and decide that Christmas together at the dude ranch would all but guarantee a happier new year. Unfortunately, Cyril has a surprise guest who might push all good will out the window—the one and only “Buzz,” who has been shish-kabobbing Caro for years. Will everyone get along? Is romance in the air? Will the spirit of giving triumph? The story, a succession of page-long messages followed by longer e-mails jam-packed with none-too-subtle character exposition, sacrifices much for a gimmick that was worn out several years ago.
A rare stumble from an entertaining author who usually has a strong, sure hand with character.