Author: Fred Tribuzzo
ISBN 978-160844-014-6

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Paul Castelucci is an arrogant, cynical, burned-out bankruptcy lawyer. He has reached the point in mid-life when men look back on their lives, often with regret. And Paul has his share of regrets. When he looks in the mirror he sees a man who is “short, round-shouldered, (with) bushy eyebrows, thinning hair and a receding chin.” He divorced long ago, abandoning his only son in the process, and has burned through a series of short-term relationships since then. He also left the church of his childhood long ago and has dabbled in a variety of spiritual fads without finding anything substantial there. Now he is a cynical, sarcastic, critical, lonely man. The one place Paul finds hope is in the pages of an old book he has read over and over since he was a boy, Black Elk Speaks.

On this, the night before the night before Christmas, Paul falls asleep reading Black Elk’s story. He is awakened by a visit from his hero, a man whom Paul regards as “the holiest, bravest man in 19th century America.” Paul hopes this means he will achieve his secret dream of becoming a shaman. Instead, Black Elk calls him a shmoe and a traitor, and tells him his soul has shriveled almost to nothing. Then the old Indian tells Paul to spend Christmas Eve in St. Michaels, the church he attended as a child.

The next evening, armed with a sleeping bag, snacks and a six-pack of Evian (it seemed a better choice for a spiritual journey than beer), Paul heads to the abandoned church. In Dickensian fashion, he is visited by three “ghosts” of 19th century Native American heroes. Black Elk, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse take turns showing Paul his broken past, hopeless present and a future that might include his son’s death as a war hero. Paul has a choice: to continue on his current path—the path that may lead to his son’s death—or to change the future by changing himself.

Like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, St. Nick is a small book with a big message. It confronts, but also offers hope. Like Scrooge and like Paul, we can take stock of who we are. We can repent of our arrogance and selfishness. We can confess the pain that made us who we are. And we can change. Ourselves and, perhaps, our futures.

The plot of St. Nick is very similar to that of A Christmas Carol. In Tribuzzo’s book, however, the ghostly Christmas Eve visits are more like a Vision Quest. The visions are more enigmatic and focused more on Paul’s ideals than on actual events from his life. The visions also introduce minor themes that Tribuzzo never develops—themes involving patriotism and spirituality.

Tribuzzo’s Native Americans are unexpected. The characters are not well-developed and seem more symbolic than real. However, they don’t act like symbols. They don’t lead Paul to seek the Great Spirit, or to respect Mother Earth or to seek peace. Instead, they point to the value of war, promote exploiting our natural resources and steer him back to the Christian religion. This is all well and good, and could make interesting reading if the characters were stronger.

St Nick is an interesting twist on a familiar old tale. It’s worth reading even if only to remind us that the future is not predetermined and that change is always possible.

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