When I was asked by a client for books by Bailey White recently, I discovered a title that had slipped my notice - Nothing with Strings: NPR's Beloved Holiday Stories. Since we are already planning holiday book displays, and since I enjoyed White's somewhat autobiographical story collections Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Sleeping at the Starlite Motel, and since the client took one of the other books, I checked out Nothing with Strings. I took it with me to West Texas and read three of the thirteen stories one night and the rest on my flight back to Chicago. They provided good company during a long day.
The string of Christmas lights on the book jacket suggested to me that stories would be set around Christmas, but I was wrong. The stated holiday connection is that White read these stories on Thanksgiving Day broadcasts of National Public Radio's All Things Considered. I think one - maybe two - of them actually mentioned Thanksgiving. In "The Progress of Deglutition," on Thanksgiving Day, after the company has left, Dave tells Sally that he is leaving her after several decades of marriage. It is totally out of the blue for Sally who thought they were happy. In "Return to Sender," Mrs. Nash looks at a Sears Catalog with "O Holy Night" in the background while her daughter plans the town's Victorian Christmas celebration, which takes place later in the story. If the other stories had holiday themes, I have quickly forgotten them. The domestic drama stands out. Is the reference to holiday stories in the subtitle just a marketing tactic to help sell this collection of offbeat stories?
White should not need any deception to sell her stories, as she has many NPR listeners as fans. She is known for her witty descriptions of life in the rural South, where people try to preserve their traditions in the face of modern disruptions to their routines and relationships. Her previous book was a novel Quite a Year for Plums, which was not has entertaining as her autobiographical stories. I think Nothing with Strings rises above the less satisfying novel. While not as funny as Mama Makes Up Her Mind, the recent story collection more sincerely describes the problems people experience with family, friends, and the lack of emotional support. Short story fans, especially those who like Southern flavored storytelling, will enjoy this book.
White, Bailey. Nothing with Strings: NPR's Beloved Holiday Stories. Scribner, 2008. ISBN 9781439102268