“Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners”: by Gretchen Anthony. Thorndike Press, copyright 2018. 543 pages, Large Print, $27, Kindle, $17
At first blush, Violet Baumgartner is the quintessential caricature of the busy-body, type-A church-lady run amok. Her husband Ed is getting ready to retire from 30-years as a respected medical researcher and she intends to give him a retirement party to remember. The invitations are on embossed paper, the appetizers are perfect, and she’s even hyped the party to the local media.
What transpires is hardly the “dream party” she envisioned. Violet faints at the party, when one of the guests inadvertently refers to the happy Baumgartner couple becoming grandparents. Daughter Cerise, a yuppie junior engineer, has failed to inform her parents that she’s expecting. To make matters worse, her chosen life partner Barb is female, and the conservative Baumgartners aren’t quite ready for a same-sex marriage and their daughter’s determined silence about the impending baby’s male parentage.
Despite a serious concussion, Violet Baumgartner goes on a crusade to run the church holiday fair in absentia, write her yearly Christmas letter, and find out the identity of her grandchild’s male biological parent—all from the confines of doctor-imposed bed-rest and home confinement. Violet is aided in her quest for answers by fellow church-lady Eldris, whose advertising executive husband Richard has just lost his longtime job to a younger replacement. Eldris and Richard are the parents of Kyle—Cerise Baumgartner’s best friend from childhood.
The Baumgartner family history is explained throughout the narrative via Violet’s yearly Christmas letters–pompous brag sheets that spin reality to massage the family image of mother, father, and daughter as paragons of perfection. What becomes clear is that Violet is lying to herself as much as she is exaggerating family accomplishments to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
When the anticipated grandbaby arrives and Barb’s dysfunctional parents come to town for a church Christening ceremony, family skeletons stand revealed and the event comes to a chaotic close with adults behaving badly. “Evergreen Tidings” is a high-farce comedy of manners and Violet Baumgartner reminds the reader of social-climbing Hyacinth Bucket, star of the old British sit-com “Keeping Up Appearances”.
Take time to savor this first novel from Minnesota-based humorist Gretchen Anthony. When “Minnesota nice” meets Momzilla, human foibles were never funnier.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Genealogy Librarian at the May Memorial Library. She can be reached at email@example.com or (336) 229-3588.