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David A. Schwinghammer

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A Christmas Story (book review)
By David A. Schwinghammer
Last edited: Sunday, December 06, 2009
Posted: Monday, November 23, 2009

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Recent articles by
David A. Schwinghammer

• Fire Lover, a True Story, book review
• The God Particle
• Harper Lee (book review)
• Missoula, book review
• Another Shakespeare Doubter, book review
• Flights of Passage, book review
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           >> View all 154
Jean Shepherd's original short stories, some of which became "A Christmas Story."

After watching THE CHRISTMAS STORY for the umpteenth time, I searched my bookshelves for my copy of Jean Shepherd's IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS PAY CASH. I had purchased it as a resource book for declamation, and I knew I'd never read all of it.

THE CHRISTMAS STORY itself is based on several humorous narratives in the book, namely "Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid," "My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art," and "Flick Dredges Up a Notorious [...]," but for me the most interesting of the thirty-one essays were those that dealt satirically with Depression-era Hohman, Indiana. For instance, "Hairy Gertz and the Forty-seven Crappies" deals with a fishing trip Ralphie went on with the Old Man and his buddies from the office. The men are more interested in drinking than fishing, and the lake is a veritable cesspool that was later condemned.

A lot of the stories deal in Shepherd's own particular kind of pathos. "I Poke at an Old Wound" is about a blind date that Ralphie went on with his pal Schwartz. Ralphie can't believe how lucky he is when his "blind date" turns out to be a knockout. But he can't understand why she's so standoffish and quiet. In the end, he realizes that HE'S the blind date.

We also get to see the Depression come to life in "`Nevermore,' Quoth the Assessor, `Nevermore'." Ralphie and his friends Schwartz, Fleck and Kissel are coming home from school throwing rocks at everything that moves until they see a poster on a telephone poll announcing a tax auction. His friend Kissel's house is being sold at a sheriff's auction to pay for back taxes. He never sees Kissel again.

Of course, not all of the stories are downers. Others are more like the Christmas Story. In "Wilbur Duckworth and His Magic Baton" we meet a drum major genious. Ralphie played the sousaphone in a marching band and Duckworth was the show-off drum major. Like Garrison Keillor, part of Shepherd's appeal is the particular cadences he employs. I have an idea many of these essays were written to be read aloud, and Shepherd was in high form with the Duckworth essay.

Although I was familiar with a lot of the stories, this was a lot of fun to read. There are some changes, for instance. The nefarious Farcus was originally Grover Dill, although the bully always had yellow eyes.

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