Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Book Rating: 🍪🍪
This is not the type of book I would typically choose of my own accord, but I was sent an ARC, and the festive cover vibe and swirly calligraphy intrigued me, it is December after all. The first few chapters of this book absolutely delighted me. Gretchen Anthony is a master at creating a unique and delightfully humorous narrative voice. The style of her prose was refreshingly unlike anything I’ve read before. The main character of this story is the matriarch of the family, Violet Baumgartner. (Is it just me, or is this name weirdly similar to Violet Baudelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?? What’s up with these very unique, yet clearly not that unique Violets?).
Scattered throughout the book, are excerpts from Violet’s annual ‘Evergreen Tidings,’ holiday letters in which she writes extensively about her family, bragging shamelessly about how incredible and flawless each and every member is. Violet’s narrative makes it clear that she is utterly oblivious to the way that she puts her family up on a pedestal, and it made me kind of hate her, but I also got a lot of amusement out of each of her chapters.
The book alternates narrators, switching between various members of the Baumgartner family and close friends, but no voice is quite as strong as Violet’s. As much as I enjoyed the humor in this writing and the countless laugh-out-loud anecdotes (I would include some specifics, but I haven’t checked my advanced reader’s copy against the final published version, so I’ll refrain), that was the entire highlight of the book for me. When I closed the book, I honestly had no idea what had happened throughout the nearly 400 pages.
The main issue the Baumgartners are dealing with is Violet’s daughter, Cerise, and her partner, Barb, being pregnant. Violet is obsessed with figuring out who the father is, but the conversation surrounding this ‘problem’ seemed to me to happen over and over again, and I guessed who the father was a few hundred pages before the family figured it out. The back and forth between Cerise and her mother and then Cerise and Barb got repetitive quickly. There was also a random group of protesters setting up art installations throughout the narrative, some missing eyeglasses from Cerise’s best friend Kyle’s nonprofit, and Barb’s inappropriate and intoxicated parents popped in for a hot minute somewhere along the way.
The novel ended with a big reveal about the aforementioned protestors, and the missing glasses. It turns out, both things were orchestrated by Kyle’s ex-fiancé whom I did not care about in the least. Overall, this book did not leave me feeling festive and amused like I hoped, I was more so frustrated and disappointed that the strength of the writing did not translate into a more captivating narrative. It felt to me as if I read about the same disastrous dinner party/social event/baptism about seven different times.
Nonetheless, this browned butter pumpkin cake with salted caramel frosting, recipe brought to you by Cooking Classy, helped to lift my spirits (although I would suggest making more frosting than the recipe calls for if you’re a frosting fiend like I am… and full disclosure, I did not make my own caramel for this recipe, but rather “cheated” slightly by buying salted caramel sauce in a jar to save myself some stress). I do hope to read something else of Gretchen Anthony’s in the future, she is truly a gifted writer, however this story, unlike this cake, was just not for me.