A Country Christmas

A Country Christmas is the name of a collection of two novels by Debbie Macomber, Buffalo Valley and Return to Promise. Unlike the last collection I read by her, the deceptively-named Holiday Lights, the first story in this compilation had a prominent Christmas theme, yet in the second story it wasn’t mentioned until chapter eight of nine.

Buffalo Valley was originally published in 2001 and is centred on a small town in North Dakota where a giant Walmartian retailer, Value-X, is threatening to set up shop. Vaughn Kyle is sent to Buffalo Valley to scope out the place and to assess public reaction to the company. While there he finally meets a woman who has served as a mother figure throughout his life, Hassie Knight. Vaughn in fact was named after Hassie’s son, who was killed in Vietnam. When visiting Hassie’s pharmacy he meets Carrie Hendrickson, for whom he develops an immediate attraction. Vaughn is suddenly torn between her and Natalie Nichols, a colleague from back home who had gotten it into her head that she and Vaughn were engaged. That is not the only crisis that plagues Vaughn, for he has to reveal to Carrie that he is working for the enemy Value-X, whose establishment in town will surely drive the pharmacy out of business.

I enjoyed this novel and raced through it, mainly because its setting was at Christmas. No Macomber Christmas romance ends with a disappointment, so it should not serve as a spoiler to reveal that a local group buys the land from under Value-X to ensure the giant retailer can never move in. The land will be used for local entrepreneurs, including Vaughn himself. After he breaks off his “engagement” to Natalie, he quits work at Value-X and moves to Buffalo Valley where decides to set up a feed store. At the end of the novel he marries Carrie just two weeks before Christmas.

The second story, Return to Promise, was originally published in 2000. I did not enjoy this story as much since its Christmas content was minimal. Cal Patterson and his wife Jane are having problems, no doubt exacerbated by the trollish Nicole Nelson (another femme fatale with the initials N. N.) who has no compunctions about telling people–including Jane–that she has every intention of stealing away Cal. With their marriage crumbling, Jane returns to California with their two young children while Cal is left alone at the ranch in Promise, Texas, trying to repel Nicole’s moves.

A Macomber novel is predictable, so it was no surprise that Cal and Jane reconciled just in time for Christmas. What I found so unbelievable was the way they ended up doing it. Both of them decided to fly to see the other. In spite of each of them leaving phone messages on answering machines (remember, this was written in 2000, still before the pernicious invasion of widespread cellular telephony) neither waited to hear back from the other before buying his or her own plane ticket. If this were a sitcom then we would have comedic races to the airports and a sudden decision or discovery that one of them should stay put. Yet credulity was stretched when, even when Jane finally was able to listen to Cal’s message, she still headed to the airport hoping that he would have received her own message:

“She hated the thought of getting home and learning he was on his way to California. If that did happen, he’d find an empty house, because her mother would be in Mexico.”

Weren’t departure and arrival times transmitted in those phone messages? No one would ever do this because a couple even in the thralls of passionate reconciliation would have the sense to communicate with the other that one of them would fly out. This lacuna in communication was all the more incredible since Macomber portrayed Promise as a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. A chance meeting between Cal and Nicole in a restaurant–as innocent as it was–and suddenly the entire town knew about it. So if neither Cal nor Jane could communicate with the other about his or her travel plans, then he or she should just tell anybody else, as word would travel fast.

Unfortunately suspense was absent as I never felt that Cal and Jane’s planes would pass each other in midflight. That couldn’t have happened with so few pages left and a happy Christmas reunion just waiting to happen.

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