Dona Brown
December 13, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Christmas Letters

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Lee Smith
publisher
Algonquin Books
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A

In Lee Smith’s epistolary novel The Christmas Letters, Birdie Pickett sends her first Christmas letter home in 1944, beginning a long holiday tradition that bridges three generations of Southern women. Birdie, her daughter, Mary, and granddaughter Melanie all turn out to be enchanting storytellers, and their annual notes to one another — on marriage, children, elopements, betrayals, death — sum up the ever-evolving face of family life in America. Thoughtful recipes are shared as a postscript: There’s a lugubrious 1951 Bible Cake, followed by the Cool Whip, mushroom soup, and fondue days, capped by ”these salsa years.” What people eat over the decades is a satisfying way to trace time; you’ll savor the images of food as you linger over this small, soothing tale. A

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