14 December 2009


by Wally Lamb

The subtitle, "A Christmas Story," is a bit of a misnomer, but the last half of the story does take place at Christmas, so...close enough for this humorous memoir about Felix Funicello, whose only "claim to fame" so far in his ten years has been that he's distant cousins with former Mouseketeer/singer/movie star Annette Funicello. But in October of 1964, life changes for Felix: his fifth-grade parochial school teacher, Sister Dymphna, suffers a nervous breakdown and his class gets a lay teacher, a French-Canadian woman with a decidedly Gallic outlook on life (and the curriculum, since they now have French lessons); his mom gets in the Pillsbury Bake-Off semifinals; Felix himself and his pals will be in a future audience of the local Ranger Andy television show; and an outrageous Russian student joins their class. Into this heady mix stir the usual class teacher's pet, Felix's growing awareness of the opposite sex (partially stimulated by his slightly older best friend), and the approaching class Nativity pageant.

It all turns out to be a very funny, very true portrait of a 1960s Italian family in southern Connecticut, a "slice-of-life" story that reaches its hilarious conclusion at the Nativity pageant. If I have any complaint with this book, it's that Lamb almost throws in TOO many 1960s references...hair scrunchies, references to TV and radio personalities, references to the newfangled idea of "subscription television," etc. in an effort to portray the era. But for me it didn't overwhelm the sheer fun of the story--and it even ends with an American Graffiti-like "whatever happened to" epilog which provides the tale with a perfect capper. Enjoyable, especially for nostalgia buffs and those who, like me, remember the early 1960s.

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