If the holidays are a sad and lonely time for you, or maybe just plain irritating, then your kind of Christmas novel probably isn't bright and festive, or as focused on the happiness of the season as you'd typically expect. Instead, we bet you'd love to cozy up by the fireplace with a satirical account of crazy Christmas traditions and laugh your head off at the dark humor. Or, give yourself a late night spook with the closest Stephen King's got to a Christmas novel: Pet Sematary. If the holidays are especially hard, you can even look to the wise words of grief specialist Gary Roe.
Overall, Christmas doesn't have to be about jingle bells and Santa Claus breaking and entering for everyone. Get your hands on any book from below if you need a break from the carols and ugly sweaters, and escape into chillier, more wintery worlds.
Related: 6 Alternative Reads for Christmas
P.S. Your Cat is Dead
James Kirkwood is having a really crappy holiday season. His girlfriend left him, he lost his job, and his beloved cat has passed on. The only thing that can make this worse is being robbed — oh wait, there’s a burglar tied up in the kitchen.
In an attempt to fight loneliness and get through the mourning of his cat, James takes to chatting with the burglar, who he finds is both gay and about to make him question everything he knows about himself, including his sexuality. In this dark-humor comic, Kirkwood weaves a disastrous story about the holiday season that’s sure to lift your spirits. Because trust him, it can always get worse.
Twelve-year-old May’s parents have hired her out to perform domestic chores for a couple living 15 long, unfamiliar miles away. Pa’s promised she’d be home by Christmas, but Christmas is taking forever with the horrid mistress breathing down her neck. In a fit one day, the mistress runs away, and her husband soon follows her, leaving May all alone in a lonely cabin with winter fast approaching.
Feeling heartbroken and abandoned by both her employers and her family, May must overcome her loneliness and crushing despair in order to overcome starvation, freezing temperatures and see her struggle for survival through this holiday season.
Coming home for the holidays isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It certainly isn’t in the cards for Kelley Quinn’s four kids. Hedge-fund manager Patrick’s dealing with some shady business, bartender Kevin’s secretly sleeping with a French housekeeper, school-teacher Ava can’t get her boyfriend to commit, and Bart, the youngest and only child of Kelley's second marriage, has enlisted in the Marines. When Kelley walks in on his current wife kissing Santa Claus, it’s up to his first wife to save Christmas despite a love triangle, an unplanned pregnancy, a federal crime, a small house fire, and many, many shots of whiskey.
Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker
Sometimes Santa’s stories get old, but one can still find the holiday spirit with some less common Christmas characters.
Everyone knows Klara’s story, but what about the Nutcracker himself? Learn how this enchanting wooden statue came to be carved and ended up guiding an ailing young Klara through a dream-like world one Christmas Eve.
This retelling isn’t just sugarplums and snowflakes though. At the heart of Maguire’s story beats the ominous Drosselmeier, and one profound question: “How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless?” Maguire incorporates the ballet’s link to Hellenic mystery cults into the classic German Romanticism tale to prove that everyone, no matter how marginalized or lonely, has something precious to share.
Surviving the Holidays Without You: Navigating Grief During Special Seasons
When you’re grieving, the holidays can seem overwhelming. You’re more aware than ever who’s missing, and every event becomes a maze of grief triggers, emotional outbursts and roller coaster emotions. Grief specialist Gary Roe has compiled an extensive practical guide to surviving the holidays on your road to grief recovery.
He reminds you that you’re not alone at this time, or any time, and teaches important skills such as taking care of your own health, reaching out to healthy relationships, managing powerful expectations, and making a simple, provocative plan that both honors your loved one and utilizes the holiday as a time to grieve well. With Roe’s compassionate and encouraging words, wounded hearts will learn to understand that though the holidays are different now, they can still be good.
Sometimes Santa can’t work miracles.
Ungodly arctic winds send cold shivers right up the spines of New York City’s inhabitants. On one especially dark winter night, Peter Lake, an orphaned master-mechanic, tries to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side, only to find the house wasn’t as empty as he thought.
Peter’s a simple man; he hadn’t been educated much. However, the love that bloomed between him, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and the young Beverly Penn that cold winter night was unprecedented. As New York’s extraordinary life is subsumed in the cold darkness of winter, how will Peter ever live with the fact that Beverly’s dying?
Halloween’s passed, we know, which is why now’s the perfect time to read Pet Sematary, one of Stephen King's best books. After all, it’s set at Christmas. Yeah that’s right, this grisly tale of resurrected, demon-possessed house pets is technically a Christmas novel.
Spend these cold winter nights huddled up with a story filled with undead children, ominous nightmares and the powerful curse of a Native American tribe’s burial ground. Who said Christmas stories couldn’t be wildly disturbing?
The Snow Child
Native Alaskan journalist and bookseller Eowyn Ivey offers a sad tale of fantasy and hope in her debut novel.
When the childless couple Jack and Mabel move to the brutal snowy climate of Alaska, their marriage is already on the rocks. Jack is breaking under the weight of his job, and Mabel is succumbing to loneliness and despair. In a brief moment of respite from their sorrows, the couple builds their so-coveted child from snow in an attempt to enjoy the season’s first snowfall. But the next morning, the snow child is gone, and they glimpse a young girl running through the trees.
Jack and Mabel come to love Faina as their own daughter, but is this girl really the stuff of a Russian myth Mabel read as a child? Was she really sent in answer to the couple’s wishes, or will the transformation she brings leave the two weighed down by more sorrow than they’d begun with?
Related: 10 Must-Read Quotes and Books from Indigenous Authors
Holidays on Ice
In this collection of six disarmingly hilarious stories, David Sedaris turns his dark, satirical perspective upon the Christmas season. Included is Sedaris’ deadpan account of the disaster that was his time as a department store elf, a break down of those humblebrag Christmas cards, and an absurd short story about two neighbors dueling to outdo each other’s holiday spirit.
Sedaris has a knack for picking out the accepted weirdness of real life and twisting it til we can’t believe how ridiculous people act around the holidays. This anthology’s a real joy for anyone with a sardonic streak about the holidays themselves.
Winter in Paradise
Not everyone’s a fan of a white Christmas, so ditch that chilly white snow for the warm white sand of the Caribbean this holiday season.
When Irene Steele’s beauty sleep is disturbed by a late-night phone call informing her that her husband has been found dead in St. John, she and her two sons leaves the cold winter behind to identify his remains. The tropical paradise offers Irene nothing but shock and mystery as she investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. If Christmas is about family, Irene doesn’t want it because it turns out Mr. Steele’s been hiding an entire second family from her all these years
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Featured photo via Scrooge (1951) / Renown Pictures