Deck the halls and pass the bourbon. If this is your reaction, as it is mine, to an encroaching holiday season, cheers. You are in great company, and you are ready to become a writer. Because aren’t a heightened sense of sentimentality, a dysfunctional family, and a middling drinking problem everything a burgeoning scribe needs? Hell yes.
But writer or no, you’ve got a yuletide dilemma ahead. You’re going home for the holidays and it’s going to be a disaster. There will be arguing over the Christmas tree decorations that are really about which child was “the favorite,” a turkey that will explode when your faux-foodie cousins insist it be deep-fried, and gut-wrenched sobs because, dammit, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Also, If you’re writer, all this will be worsened by your asking your parents for money… again.
But buck up! Because like your grim, middle-aged Uncle Louie who smells of Jameson, cigarettes, and potato chips is always ready to remind you — it could be so much worse.
So when your holiday at home begins to drive you up the walls of your childhood bedroom, and you’re tearing at your old posters of Devon Sawa that still hang there, reach for one of these books instead, as a reminder of how bad Christmas could be.
One Christmas by Truman Capote
Okay, your dad may suck. But at least he’s not a gigolo! It's okay, though, because Truman Capote bounced right back to lead a well-adjusted and contented life that absolutely was not ravaged by alcoholism.
“Christmas” from The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov by Vladimir Nabokov
You know what’s really Christmas-y? Let’s all remember our dead son who died too soon and wallow in that despair for a really long time. Wait, isn't that kinda Christ-masy? Ooh. I think I just got this story.
The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
No matter how bad Christmas gets, remember, Glenn Beck could be there. (Oh, and maybe you're like, "Hey, I didn't know Glenn Beck wrote fiction!" Well, everything Glenn Beck writes is fiction.) Never end a paragraph with a parenthesis.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
You could be celebrating Christmas with the Flytes. Your best friend will be spending the holiday getting drunk in the bathtub while his mother keeps trying to convert you to Catholicism. The upside of all this takes place in a Castle that makes Downton Abbey look like a dump. So maybe worth it? I'll get back to you.
Family Pictures by Sue Miller
Ah, childhood. Remember watching your glamorous parents’ Christmas party from the landing on the stair? Your mother's beehive hairdo? Your father's tux? Remember when your father started using those parties to pick up your mother’s friends? Remember when he seduced them right on the dance floor, your mother caught him, then he left you forever? Merry Christmas.
You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs
At least you’re not sexually attracted to Santa. Thanks, Augusten! I feel better now.
The Lion in Winter by James Goldman
It's like the middle ages, but super-bitchy. This is a play about Henry II messing with his family at Christmas. In the spirit of goodwill he lets his wife out of prison, where he has had her banished for the past 10 years. The reunited couple, the three pretty pissed-off sons, and the lover the father stole from the older son, proceed to get super-bitchy. Actually, it's a lot of fun. The only reason this Christmas is worse than yours is the fashion. What the hell does poor Katherine Hepburn have around her chin?
“The Dead” from Dubliners by James Joyce
You could spend this Christmas being chased across Dublin by zombies, so be grateful for that. Because that is absolutely what this story is about. Don’t question it. Just tell everyone you’ve read Dubliners and your favorite scene was when Gabriel Conroy beat down his undead wife with her own galosh. God, James Joyce was just so ahead of his time!
The Long Christmas Dinner by Thorton Wilder
Your grandparents may bore you to tears during the holiday, sure. Every year you hear about how when they were kids, they felt lucky when they could rub their lard sandwiches on the salt blocks. But at least they don't keep you at the dinner table for all eternity. Yup, when Thorton told you it was a long Christmas dinner, he wasn't kidding.
"Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor" from The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
There's been a lot of talk about how grim and awful it is to be forced to work on a holiday (Oh, Walmart...). But in this story John Cheever takes the grimness to the top floor. Without a family to bring him good cheer, working, and accidentally drunk, Charlie the Elevator Man is everything you don't want to think about on Christmas. So, enjoy that.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
When it comes to depressing, Jane Eyre brings it all year round. But come Christmastime, she is ON IT. Tiny Jane is beaten up, locked up, abandoned, and all while being an orphan! Boom. Done. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention, she's on a mother-F'ing moor.
The Seafarer by Conor McPherson
It's not too unusual to sit down with your family during the holidays to play cards. In fact, I recommend it, it's a great way to avoid talking. But how often do you play with... Satan?! For your soul?! This right here is why you get extra points for bleakness if you're Irish. P.S. That's my Dad in the background. Merry Christmas, Dad! None of this article refers to our Christmas. Where's the Jameson at?
Images: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/Amazon, Jean Louis Mazieres, Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Giphy, classic_film/Flickr, Giphy, Twentieth Century Fox/IMDB, Giphy (2), zyphichore/Flickr, Steel Beam Theater