“The Christmas Room” by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. A word of warning: It is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday novel. Yet, it is very realistic, believable, and leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends, a feeling of hope and redemption.
The story presents different generations. The McClendon’s have come to Montana to fulfill a dream of making a life here in Rustlers Gulch. Three generations of a mother, son and grandson must learn to battle the Montana wilderness. It plays such a big role that it is like a secondary character. Readers learn of the ranch life, how a Bull Moose can be dangerous to one’s health, and the weather’s unforgiving attitude with horrific winds and knee-high snow levels.
Having moved to Montana, Anderson wants to incorporate what she was visualizing. “As I looked out my window I knew I had to put this setting into the story. I consider Montana a tremendous place, rich in scenery and with such friendly people. Here I was sitting in the middle of an alfalfa field in a trailer while my house was being built facing this brutal winter and a Christmas without a home. Lucky me, it was a record-breaking winter where snow was up to the tops of my boots.”
Besides battling the inclement weather the McClendon’s must also deal with the unfriendly neighbor Sam Conacher. Embittered by the death of his wife six years ago has left him possessive of his 26-year-old daughter, Kirstin. She goes along with his wishes because she has not found a man in her life that is worth fighting over. That is, until she meets Cam McClendon, her possible soulmate. After finding out about the relationship, Sam looks to confront Cameron and warn him off from his daughter. Instead, he meets Maddie, Cam’s mother, who becomes a pit bull, and shows him he has met his match. They totally get off on the wrong foot and become adversaries.
Until a horrible accident occurs, where Cam is badly injured saving Kirstin’s life. Sam realizes how wrong he has been and while Cam recuperates, he insists the McClendon’s move into his large ranch house. Maddie and Sam begin to rely on each other and enjoy their talks, realizing they can relate to each other about losing their spouses. A friendship is born as Maddie allows him to see the error of his ways. Very slowly, a sweet heartfelt romance also begins between Maddie and Sam, who have come to rely on each other.
A powerful quote is very relatable, “You don’t think of the person for a few hours. Then, bang, it blindsides you. She was my other half in every sense of the word, my guiding light, my advisor, and my comfort during the storms.” Because everything is not always joyful, there were heart-breaking scenes where both families share the devastating loss of a loved one from cancer, but readers also see the healing process and resilience of the human spirit. As the Christmas holiday approaches the story becomes uplifting showing how Maddie’s grandson, Caleb, is caring and considerate, giving his grandmother a gift that is overwhelming.
Anderson wants to bring realism to “the story. We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones, and on Christmas, there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of Maddie’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson.”
Anderson has done a wonderful job of creating well-developed characters. Her description of Sam might remind people of the actor Sam Elliott with his deep western slang voice. The book’s description, “He emanated strength, superiority, and arrogance… His weathered features looked as if they’d been carved from granite.” It went on to say he wore a tan Stetson, had white sideburns, sooty eyebrows and a mustache peppered with gray, with his hair color also white. In personality, he appears to be overbearing, rude, angry, and lonely. But as the story progresses he is also seen as dependable, caring, and someone the families can lean on.
Seeing Sam with many emotional layers the author describes him as “very protective, ornery, overbearing; yet, regretful and sorry for these emotions. In the end, he became caring and thoughtful. In looking back on how I describe Sam’s features, with the white hair, long mustache and sideburns, and granite face, I do think it resembles Elliott.”
These two-holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters.