Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights is a collection of three stories, all of which had been published independently. I read all three of them in succession, starting with The Forgetful Bride, which first came out in 1991. Caitlin Marshall is infatuated with her boss, who does her head in because he barely notices her. One day during office renovations she runs across a construction worker who seems very familiar. Joe Rockwell, however, recognizes Cait before she can make the connection.

Twenty years earlier, when Cait was eight and Joe was ten, they took part in a play marriage ceremony. Joe then was allowed to kiss Cait. This supposed marital bond was a running joke throughout the novel, with Joe lording it over Cait. Any couple who remembered this act of child’s play decades later would have laughed it off and not returned constantly to any presumed significance of the act. Joe kept embarrassing Cait in public situations by claiming her to be his wife. This is typical Macomber modus operandi, where the male love interests are always immature, brutish bullies. Read these descriptions of Joe from the beginning of the novel:

“‘That depends,’ Joe responded with a chuckle Cait could only describe as sadistic. She gritted her teeth. He might have found the situation amusing, but she derived little enjoyment from being the office laughingstock.”


“Cait looked up, about to tell him, when she realized exactly what she was doing–conversing with her antagonist. This was the very man who’d gone out of his way to embarrass and humiliate her in front of the entire office staff. Not to mention assorted clients and carpenters.”

Cait agrees to go out with Joe to catch up on old times, but ends up falling for him. She is conflicted over her one-sided love affair with her boss, but she soon discovers that he is in love with her best friend and coworker. This was not a surprise and I guessed it the moment when Macomber wrote that Cait suspected her friend, Lindy, of having man trouble.

Macomber readers know, of course, that Cait would get over her infatuation with her boss and end up falling for the guy who is sadistic, embarrassing and humiliating towards her. They would even have a Christmas wedding.

The second story was Sugar and Spice, originally written in 1987, and after reading both this and The Forgetful Bride I fully appreciate how much cellular telephony has had an impact in the development of fiction. It’s not that this realization whenever I read an “old” novel is a new revelation; but after reading over a dozen twenty-first-century Macomber Christmas stories only to be presented now with two, where cellphones are not part of the picture, it is natural to wonder why the characters seem to be living in the dark ages. In these past two stories they are waiting by their phones, unable to send a text or E-mail. Think of how much the plot could be advanced if only smartphones had been around in the 1980’s.

Jayne Gilbert is a children’s librarian who is intrigued by a mysterious trench coat-wearing man she frequently sees lurking outside her building. It turns out that this man, Riley Chambers, lives on her floor just a few doors away. They develop a growing, yet suppressed, mutual attraction, where Riley’s job as an undercover FBI agent means that he frequently has to lie to Jayne about his whereabouts. His obligation for secrecy torments Jayne, who takes his deceptions personally.

Macomber saddles Jayne with self-esteem issues, where she believes her goody-goody reputation and physical appearance are not attractive to men. Riley enters the picture to profess his undying love for her. Classic Macomber style is to portray her female protagonists as insecure submissives, ready to welcome a man into their lives to whisk them away to the happily ever after. Riley does not disappoint, and manages to convince Jayne to marry him, all within 151 pages.

Christmas does not figure in this novel at all. Macomber could at least have given this story some nominal Christmas context by scheduling another yuletide wedding, but no.

The final story was Friends–and Then Some, first published in 1986. Of the three, this one was the greatest eye-roller, where nothing seemed plausible and I caught myself several times wondering aloud why I still bother reading this author. Lily Morrissey is looking for a husband, but only one who is super-rich. Apparently no one around her has the courage to call her a gold digger, and she is too blind to her own greed to recognize this herself. She enlists the help of her best friend, Jake Carson, to help her look for Mr. Moneybags.

She meets two wealthy men who take her to fancy restaurants and give her tickets to the opera, and one even proposes with a gigantic engagement ring, yet she is not impressed by these showerings of wealth after all. You can figure out who Lily eventually picks as husband material: the taxi-driving, houseboat-resident Jake. Anyone could see this coming. That they try to deny this desire throughout the whole novel is unreal. They are kissing each other passionately early on then try to fight against it for the rest of the story.

These three stories were presented, by the cover art and collective title, as a Christmas collection. I would consider it a reasonable assumption to make, considering the reputation of the author for her Christmas romances. Yet the first story had only a fleeting mention of Christmas at the end, and in the next two stories Christmas wasn’t mentioned at all. This collection seemed to be a Christmas cash grab, and has made me rethink whether or not I should read the one remaining Macomber “Christmas collection” I still have waiting. If I peruse the contents of each story and find that they don’t have anything to do with the holiday, I will not read it.

Only after I finished reading these stories was I able to reinterpret the collection’s title in a different context: instead of the immediate meaning which is synonymous with Christmas illuminations, I have reimagined the cash grab context as “holiday lights”, meaning “light stories to read over the holidays” (stories which, by the way, have nothing to do with Christmas).

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