|Long on schmaltz and predictability, this 143-page hardcover in no way justifies its hefty price tag. The Christmas Clock is a big yawn, only rescued from one-heart status by a truly heartbreaking scene at the end of the book.
Sylvia Winters returns to her hometown of Dreyerville after eight years away. At age eighteen, Sylvia was in love with Joe Dixon, who adored her in return. Then she received the news that she had cervical cancer. Rather than level with Joe and tell him the truth, Sylvia decided Joe deserved more than a woman who could never bear children. So she told him she didn’t love him after all and left for Chicago, there to undergo surgery and treatment. Joe turned to drinking and accidentally killed a man in a bar fight. He served three years in prison, and since his release has rebuilt his life in Dreyerville, becoming a successful mechanic.
Sylvia rents a garage apartment from middle-aged Doris Culver, whose marriage to Floyd has grown distant and stale after twenty years. Next door lives Lottie Sparks, an elderly widow who is raising her grandson, eight-year-old Teddy. Lottie has Alzheimer’s, and it’s advancing rapidly. Her chief worry is Teddy, and who will care for him when she is no longer able.
These lives intersect when Teddy decides to buy an ornate clock for his grandmother as a Christmas present, since it reminds her of a clock from her childhood. To earn the money, he approaches Joe and asks for a job. Joe, taking a liking to Teddy, allows him to come to the shop and help sweep up. Sylvia and Joe soon meet up again, and find their feelings for one another haven’t diminished. When Lottie takes a turn for the worse, Teddy’s future is in limbo, and an ex-con isn’t going to be approved as a foster father.
Lottie’s poignant, agonizing predicament steals the show, and a reader would have to be made of stone not to be moved by her story. Sylvia and Joe are standard-issue separated lovers, and neither one is well-developed. Sylvia at least admits she was immature and selfish in not telling Joe the truth years earlier, and Joe has nobody to blame but himself for his prison term, but their romance felt forced. Given the book’s short length, there just isn’t justice done to it. Doris and Floyd barely register. Readers won’t be surprised by most of the events in the book, and this predictability drags the story down.
The author saved her most powerful scene for the end of the book. It certainly had me in tears, but it’s telling that the part of this story I’ll remember had nothing to do with the romance. Otherwise, The Christmas Clock is standard-issue Christmas fare, and my recommendation is to pick it up at your local library and spend the fifteen bucks on a gift for someone special, instead.