Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd (review)

I have watched the movie A Christmas Story probably a hundred times. I have had it on in the background probably another hundred. One year, I actually kept the TV on for the 24 hour marathon on TBS. Well I tried. The kids eventually begged me to turn it off.

So when I started to read this collection of short stories that inspired the movie, at first I felt like I was reading something I had seen a couple hundred times. It turns out I wasn't. I was reading about all the hilarious details and back story that the movie never shows.

This is without a doubt the funniest book I have ever read. I was even reading parts out loud to my 18 year old son. I never do that! The first story "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid" is almost exactly like the movie version. However, there are some absolutely hilarious and brilliant one liners that the movie did not include. You also learn that the zeppelin Randy loves so much was actually a gift from Ralphie that he put considerable thought into. I felt the movie gives the impression that Ralphie doesn't care too much about his little brother.

"The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or the ASP Strikes Again" was the least funny story of the collection. I liked the movie version better than this story because of the wonderful facial expressions that Ralphie shows as he's decoding the message. You just can't replicate those expressions in a book.

"My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art" was in part almost exactly like the movie version. What was different in the short story was that it starts with Ralph as a young man speaking Beat at an art gallery while trying to score with beatnik girls. While this was entertaining, it framed the actual story about the lamp and felt a bit forced. The story of the infamous lamp is told as a flashback. What I did love about this story is that it tells just what all Ralphie's Old Man had to go through to win his Major Award. This helps you understand just why the lamp is so meaningful to him and why he's so devastated when it accidentally on purpose gets broken.

"Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil" was an okay story, but I think the movie did a much better version of it. The movie builds up tension between Ralphie and the town bully from the very beginning. The short story just doesn't do as good of a job and it isn't really funny.

"The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds" was my favorite story of out of them all. Granted I feel a little guilty because I was laughing so hard over the many stereotypes that exist about hillbillies. The humor was definitely like an early version of Jeff Dunham but with infinitely more detail.

What I loved about this collection of short stories is that they all read as if they are memoir. Suprisingly, the book is categorized under fiction. The stories are just too intimate and detailed for me to believe that they are not at least based on real life experiences. That or Jean Shepherd is one of the most gifted writers I have ever read. I absolutely loved his style and plan on reading more of his books. The only thing I don't like is sometimes I have to get a dictionary to look up the meaning of some of the words he uses. I haven't had to do that since attempting to read Pride and Prejudice.

So which was better, the book or the movie? I loved them both but the book doesn't have the hilarious scenes where Flick is "double dog dared" to stick his tongue on the flagpole nor does it have the part where Ralphie is helping his dad change the tire and let's out the swear word of all swear words "Fuuuuuuudge!" I was also a bit disappointed to learn that the hilarious pink bunny suit in the movie is only pink bunny slippers in the book.

I enjoyed the book but I have a tradition that I wrap Christmas presents while I play the movie A Christmas Story. My late husband and I started it together so it has some pretty deep meaning to me. He died five years ago but I keep the tradition going every year. However, now that I have read the background to much of the plot lines in the movie, I will be able to enjoy it at an entirely new level.

My rating for the book

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