The Last Christmas Tree by Laura Monti

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Laura Monti
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The Last Christmas Tree

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Book review

The Last Christmas Tree is a story about sudden change in a woman’s autumn years. After her husband Roger's death in late September, Andrea Morgan is left in a blur of confusion. A family conflict arises on the day following his funeral when the Morgan adult children argue over their mother’s future. Andrea leaves her pristine Pleasantville, New York home and takes a walk, oblivious to the sounds and motions of her surroundings.

Within minutes, an adolescent-aged boy is forced to jump the curb with his bicycle just a few feet away from Andrea in an effort to avoid collision. While apologizing and helping him with the bike’s severed front wheel, she discovers he is her old friend Carmela Dempsey’s grandson, Jessie Michaels. During a short visit at the Dempsey home which follows, Andrea becomes amused with Jessie’s charismatic personality and the endearing interaction he has with Gramps George and Grams Carmela.

Upon returning home though, she discovers the discussion among her children has escalated, so much so that their voices are ricocheting against the walls and through the hallway. In a moment of haste coupled with raw emotions, Andrea tells them to leave. During the following days and weeks, her children, all of whom live hours out-of-town, attempt to phone, but their calls go unanswered. Andrea only stares at the answering machine waiting to hear their voices, and then becomes flabbergasted when son Larry refers to her as, a foolish old woman.

Jessie Michaels is intrigued with the newly widowed woman who lives down the street from his grandparents. Hoping to perhaps help her with yard work and possibly earn some Christmas money, he appears at Mrs. Morgan’s doorstep with a bouquet of mums. Soon a warm-hearted friendship blossoms between the two. Jessie feels a connection with Mrs. Morgan, whom he soon refers to as Miss Andrea, secretly comparing her to a grandmother he never knew, while she compares him to the grandsons she hardly knows. Both are aware of each other’s family tensions. He must deal with a snippy teenaged sister, edgy father, who is also his basketball coach, and a busy working mother. And although Miss Andrea doesn’t say much about her children, Jessie senses something is obviously wrong.

The old friendship Andrea once had with Carmela and George Dempsey is soon rekindled, and slowly laughter and hope re-enters Andrea's solitude. As time passes, she can’t help missing her children and grandchildren all the while dreading the approaching holiday season. She can’t bear looking at Christmas decorations, hearing Christmas carols or watching any kind of holiday special. Her wish is for Christmas to simply go away.

After Andrea spends Thanksgiving with the Dempseys, Marissa invites Larry and family, Liz and her mother for a holiday gathering in Vermont. Andrea is initially apprehensive; fearing the tension with her son might worsen. She slowly comes around with the influence of Jessie and his grandparents and begins to look forward to it. She would not have to stay in her dark, undecorated home. She would not have to envision the brightly decorated mantel, the white lights that trimmed her front porch, and the beautiful, perfectly shaped balsam fir Roger used to get every year from the tree vendor at St. Bart’s. When a serious mishap occurs, plans are changed and the Morgan family must spend the holidays in Pleasantville. Larry Morgan solicits Jessie’s help in searching for a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. What remain in the garden centers and shopping center lots do not even come close to the Morgan’s traditional, elegant tree, until…

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