Coming Home for Christmas
A hugely improbable storyline crash-lands into some unlikable characters, over-the-top soapy plotting and illogical reactions in Coming Home for Christmas.
Luke Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth has been living under an assumed name ever since she walked away from their shared life and into the mountains. In the intervening seven years, Luke has been under investigation for her disappearance, and when he finally figures out where she is, he comes to collect her before he can be charged with her apparent murder (!!). His plan is simple – clear his name, get a divorce, and move on with his life.
When Elizabeth walked away from her marriage, she was struggling under a combination of post-partum depression aggravated by clinical depression and grief, and now she’s suffering from seizures, panic attacks and migraines brought on by a car accident that left her with severe brain trauma that gave her amnesia for two years (!!). Luke decides to stash her away in the bare and empty shell of their former home – he’s moved on with the kids to a new place. This is in part to hide her from the children so they won’t be confused and in part so he can keep an eye on her while they work to get the authorities off his back. Naturally, that doesn’t work. But can the two of them ever find love together again?
Coming Home for Christmas dies a very painful, very slow death by over-plotting. It’s not enough for Elizabeth to have severe depression – she has to have a brain injury, been in a coma, had amnesia and been mistaken for a stranger’s Russian wife. The characters remark that this is over the top soap opera frippery; this reader found herself agreeing.
The plot and Luke proceed to beat Elizabeth up emotionally for pages, and while on one hand that’s understandable – the whole she-left-him-alone-to-be-sent-to-prison part of the plot is kind of unforgivable – he knew she had post partum depression so severe that she spent most days in bed, and clinical depression that left her in constant tears. Does he want to be responsible for her suicide or something?
And if she fought back at all as Luke railed away at her, maybe one might feel sorry for her, but she’s such a weak, self-effecting, self-blaming, self-sacrificing doormat, that it’s just impossible.
Yet Luke is hard to sympathize with. For all of his whining about his life as a single parent, aside from the almost-went-to-jail part of things, he is still yelling at a woman with brain damage and emotional trauma, and no number of scenes of a man playing father to his kids or being a great friend can counterbalance that.
The plot continues to make contrivances so it can work. Elizabeth has been left disfigured, her face reconstructed after the accident, so that she can conveniently walk among the people who once knew her without causing a stir. All of her friends are tragically, woefully bland on top of it all.
The best part of the novel is definitely the children, who are realistically and righteously pissed about this situation. And by the time Coming Home for Christmas is over, readers will be too.
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