Reviewed by Robert Runté
The marketing category, “Holiday Collection,” conjures up heart-warming stories about families getting together for Christmas dinner, Hallmark romcoms featuring mistletoe, and perhaps some stories about puppies. Well, okay, this holiday collection has all of that, but you might not have been expecting coyotes, werewolves, hellhounds, or a variety of non-Christian winter solstice celebrations. On the other hand, A Christmas Carol is undeniably a ghost story, A Wonderful Life is about suicide and angels, and Gremlins is apparently as much a Christmas movie as Die Hard, so who is to say Christmas specials shouldn’t include the occasional werewolf?
Take, for example, the opening story, “A Furtastic Gathering” by Angèle Gougeon. It’s a charming depiction of every family’s Christmas dinner: kids under foot, cousins crowding round, and meeting the daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. That the family happens to be werewolves, and the new boyfriend a vampire, merely emphasizes the universality of the experience.
Krista Ball’s “The Twelve Days of Christmas” provides the romcom. A young woman tries a dating app to meet someone for the holidays, with predictable but entertaining results. This is pretty much everyone’s awful dating experience, with “werewolf” standing in for whatever body image issue you once feared disqualified you from finding that special someone.
There were several stories about alternative holidays, of which my favourites were J.Y.T. Kennedy’s “Apple Night” and Sarah Hersma’s “Yule Moon,” both lovely examples of communities striving for peace on Earth.
My two very favorite stories of the collection both stood out for their perfect depiction of rural life. “Corn Dogs,” by the writing duo of Sarah L Johnson and Robert Bose evoked such a strong sense of place that the slide from the ordinary into ancient Slavic curses became almost imperceptible. Pitting werewolves against a John Deere combine harvester in a Taber cornfield may be the definitive prairie horror story. Similarly, Rebecca Brae’s “The Teeth Have It” is a completely accurate description of driving alone in a blizzard and therefore a completely logical encounter with a coyote.
Not everything in the collection works quite as well as the above. A few took longer to get to the point than I thought necessary. If you have a clever horror concept, then a short, sharp jab is usually what’s needed. Louis B. Rosenberg’s flash piece, “The curse of Christmas Present,” is an excellent example of matching length to concept, an engagingly short delivery to a delightful punchline. In contrast, there were two or three stories that could have used a bit more editing to tighten the pacing and raise the tension.
And while I really enjoyed Lizz Donnelly’s “Bark! The Harold Angels Sing,” others may find the partly ambiguous ending annoying. (I am prepared to argue that endings that leave at least part of the story unresolved are a particularly Canadian thing, but not everyone is into Canlit.)
Overall, I recommend the collection, the good far outweighing the few stories that were kind of ‘meh.’ No anthology is ever a perfect match for all readers, and “Corn Dogs” alone is worth the price of admission. If you’re looking for a slightly unusual Christmas gift, you could do worse than introduce friends and family to a refreshingly different take on the season.
Home for the Howlidays is published by Tyche Books.