Desert Isle Keeper
Christmas Where They Belong
Bawling my eyes out doesn’t usually go with “holiday romance” for me as I tend to prefer my Christmas stories a bit more on the fairytale side. However, this year I picked up something a bit different with Christmas Where They Belong by Marion Lennox (from 2014). Though at times a very difficult read, this ultimately hopeful story really impressed me.
This is ultimately a marriage-in-crisis tale, so if you like that trope, you may want to check this one out. The lead characters, Julie and Rob McDowell, had a very happy marriage and what seemed like a perfect life. They lived in their dream home in the Blue Mountains, enjoyed great professional success and had beautiful children.
The novel opens as Christmas is approaching, and as the backstory gradually unfolds, we learn that the McDowells’ lives essentially fell apart four years previously and that while still legally married, they have been living separate lives in different parts of Australia ever since their great tragedy. Just as with people one gets to know in real life, we don’t get the McDowells’ story in one great infodump. Instead bits and pieces come out throughout the book and we gradually learn about the horrific accident that seriously injured Julie and took their children’s lives. This gradual revelation works quite effectively as the tragedy of the event keeps building in the reader’s mind and can never entirely be dismissed. The author doesn’t wallow in the details or turn melodramatic, but the events are ever present in the story, just as they must be in Rob and Julie’s minds.
Both McDowells had stayed away from their home in the Blue Mountains after the loss of their two children, but an approaching wildfire draws them there for one last Christmas. It appears likely that the home could be destroyed in the blaze and each of them has items they want to retrieve from the home and memories they want to relive one last time. However, the fire approaches the area more quickly than planned, so they end up being trapped on the mountain where they will spend Christmas reckoning with the fire – and each other.
Because of the past history of death, this can be a very difficult story, particularly in the early chapters. As a parent, I had a difficult time even contemplating such a loss and yet I found myself glad I stuck with the story. The author tells the tale well and sympathetically, and one could see something very hopeful in Rob and Julie finding their way back to one another. They have grieved differently and at different paces, but just being together and having to work as a team in their home helps them to see what they loved in one another in the first place as well as to appreciate how the loss of their children has affected each of them.
Despite the heavy baggage of loss, the McDowells’ Christmas has touches of good humor and hope to it. There was something very symbolic about how the story unfolded, and the Christmas celebration marked a moment of starting to look toward the future in a way that the characters hadn’t before. I could find Christmas symbolism in other parts of the story as well, but I don’t want to spoil the plot by elaborating – you’ll just have to read and look for yourself.
If you can handle a far heavier-than-usual Christmas story (and I know this isn’t everyone’s emotional comfort zone), Christmas Where They Belong is a good one. It has a few weaker moments, but I hardly noticed them. Even though it made me go through several tissues, I did enjoy this novel with its tale of love and healing.