Review By KEN KORCZAK
In a society that has grown deeply cynical, lost faith in its old crumbling traditions, and where belief systems change as fast as Internet trends, perhaps only extreme measures can recapture the magic of innocence lost.
That’s what prompts freshly unemployed engineer George Kronenfeldt to hatch a thoroughly lunatic plan designed to do nothing less than prove that Santa Clause is real.
Specifically, he wants his nine-year-old daughter (who is beginning to doubt) to believe just a little bit longer.
Unfortunately, bringing back a bit of faith to a cold-blooded, materialistic world could cost Mr. Kronenfeldt everything — his house, his marriage, his career, his reputation — he may end up financially ruined for life.
If the book I’m describing sounds a bit heavy, think again. This latest offering by Chicago-based writer William Elliot Hazelgrove is hilarious, light-hearted sugar plum fun. Real Santa is an over-the-top Christmas fantasy — but which requires a heavy dose of willing suspension of disbelief by the reader. That’s because the central plot premise is pretty outrageous.
But think of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” — it juxtaposes the dreary life of George Bailey and his battle with greed, depression and alienation with a Christmas angel and the magical promise of a mythological Christmas spirit.
In fact, the book references Hollywood Christmas movie classics throughout the narrative and plays on their themes. Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, White Christmas, Elf — Hazelgrove has leveraged the central feeling and heart of these classics and penned an updated tale couched in today’s world of YouTube, smartphones, video cameras, greed, capitalism and materialism.
However, there is also a certain vibe from another kind of Christmas movie — “Bad Santa.” In that movie, Billy Bob Thornton played a foul-mouthed boozed-up burnout mall Santa who is actually a criminal.
I say “a certain vibe” because there’s an element of gritty edginess here in Real Santa that includes a lot of references to reindeer defecating and urinating, Santa figures smoking cigarettes as they curse and moan about nagging wives and busted marriages — there’s at least a couple references to the “stimulated” male body part — for good measure, Old Saint Nick makes an obscene gesture via dropping his pants — oh, and did I mention that our novel’s hero is not above getting into a physical assault dust up with a white-haired old school teacher, and he also takes a butcher knife to inflict criminal property damage on his neighbor’s tasteless Christmas decorations?
Yes, for the most part, the gooey sentimentality and sticky, smarmy Christmas magic schlock is laid on thick, but this story takes place in Chicago, the Murder Capital of the Midwest, not A Christmas Story’s Hohman, Indiana, and the writer is William Hazelgrove, not Jean Shepherd.
And so, there is a certain irony: A delightful book such as Real Santa suggests that while you might be able to recapture that old Christmas magic with extraordinary effort, you can never really go home to quite the same Christmas magic again.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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