A Marriage Carol
By Chris Fabry and Gary D. Chapman
Release Date: September 1, 2011
Borrowing some elements from Charles Dickens Christmas classic, Fabry and Chapman create a story that is more allegory than carol. The twenty-year marriage of Marlee and Jacob Ebenezer is on the verge of being canceled due to accumulated distance and lack of interest. On the evening of Christmas Eve, their wedding anniversary, they are on their way to a lawyer’s office to sign divorce papers when, after Jacob’s insistence on leaving the sanded interstate highway for a shortcut, they are involved in an automobile accident. Marlee regains consciousness to find herself alone in a car that won’t start and with a cell phone that has no signal.
Searching for her husband, she stumbles through the snow and darkness to find a house occupied by an old man and his wife. The wife remains upstairs out of sight, but the old man offers Marlee help—refuge from the cold, three-bean chili and cornbread, and an effort to find Jacob. He doesn’t find Jacob, but he offers Marlee shelter for the night in his home, which is a former funeral home turned into a retreat where he and his wife offer help for troubled marriages. Marlee to her own surprise tells Jay about her marriage. Jay encourages her to hold on to hope that love can be resurrected and instructs her in the use of three golden pots that he uses in his marriage counseling. When Marlee melts snow in the first one, she finds herself immersed in scenes from her past, complete with sound effects that include Dan Fogelberg’s “Promises Made.” Scenes from her childhood and youth flicker past; the focus is on her life with Jacob from the “season of delight” when they were young and newly in love through the moment they left their children to head for the divorce lawyer’s office. As Marlee uses the other snow-filled golden pots in turn, she sees Christmas present with her frightened children, her parents and her sister praying for her, an old boyfriend, and Jacob buried in snow; and she sees Christmas future with a miserable second marriage, children estranged from her, and the possibility of a very different future. She is reminded that “One choice changes the construction of a life.” And she’s left to make her choice.
A Marriage Carol is not a romance novel. It is a short (128 pages) story of a marriage that rises renewed from the ashes of hopelessness and resignation written by two writers well-known within the Christian community. Its message that God can restore broken marriages when both parties are committed to Him, to one another, and to their marriage will evoke hope in some and seem simplistic to others. The prose is sometimes lovely and lyrical (“There is no barren place on earth that love cannot grow a garden. Not even your heart.”) and sometimes over the top (“The phone was stillborn. As lifeless as my soul.”).
I have refrained from a ranking because I could not decide how to rate this book. I can imagine recommending it highly to a friend and fellow believer who is experiencing marital ennui or to a church group looking for something that speaks to their needs and to their faith. Even tagging it as an inspirational romance is inaccurate. Its purpose is didactic, and I use the term strictly and in no pejorative sense. It is effective for its purpose, but its purpose is different from that of a romance novel. I will also add that while it employs a Christmas setting, it is not really a Christmas book. Snow is essential to the plot, but the Christmas season isn’t.
Do you sometimes have difficulty assigning a rating to books you read? What do you expect from a Christmas book?