When was the last time you heard a really good story? They are harder to find than we might imagine.
I love stories of all sorts. Listening to a friend over a cup of something at the local coffee shop, seeing a film, watching a play, or reading a novel. But the story has to be a good story. And as Walker Percy has taught us, good stories tell the truth about the human condition—and bad ones don’t.
The last few weeks Meg and I have been reading aloud A Stubborn Sweetness, the Christmas stories of Katherine Paterson as we often do in the days of December. A master storyteller, she is the author of many books, including Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, and Lyddie, and a two time winner of the Newberry Medal, each year given to the author who has made “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” as well as a winner of the National Book Award. Simply said, she is an American treasure.
The thirteen stories in this collection range across the human heart, drawing upon ordinary people in ordinary places who in their own very different ways are bound up with the hopes and fears that are ours, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve that we are– men and women, boys and girls whose lives are marked by both laughter and longing. Threaded through her vision is an unusual attentiveness to the social and political context of life, so that we come to know people who are situated, the up-and-outers and the down-and-outers together. These are not abstractions; instead she writes about real people with real lives, incarnate in neighborhoods and cities the world over. And because these are written specially for Christmas, each is a story of surprising grace.
Maybe you are like me, with antennae attentive to false notes, anguishing when it feels like the author has missed, or worse, angry when the author has lied. Katherine Paterson never does either. Instead her characters are people like we are, like the people we live with. Sometimes they are us at our best, and sometimes they are us at our worst, glorious ruins that we are. But that is what makes her work so wonderful, and what makes these stories of the Christmas season so good– they ring true to the way the world really is, if we have ears to hear.