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Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present

Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present

By: Hank Stuever 
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Publication Date: November 2009 
ISBN: 978-0547134659 
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld 
Review Date: October 2009

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and in Frisco, TX, it looks a lot like Christmas on speed. Author Hank Stuever, a writer for the Washington Post spent three holiday seasons in Frisco, befriending the locals and writing about their Christmas customs. Tinsel is the result of those three years of watching, learning, and participating in the myriad of holiday traditions in one Texas town.

Stuever follows three families in his book, the Parnells, the Cavazos, and the Trykoskis. The strongest, most visible character in Tinsel would have to be Tammie Parnell, an American entrepreneur, who takes Stuever along for the ride as she teaches him all about her thriving business. Dubbed “Two Elves with a Twist,” she decorates clients’ homes for Christmas, charging on average, from $400 to $1200 for each house. Caroll Cavazos is a shopper who simply wants a Christmas with nice memories for her children while Jeff and Bridgette Trykoski decorate their house each year with 50,000 lights and become the local Christmas attraction each year. The couple takes great pride in their massive, bright, over-the-top decorations.

The author is an excellent writer, with vivid descriptions and a great sense of humor. The book reads quickly and there are plenty of funny and poignant parts to the book. Unfortunately, it is hard to like any of the main characters featured in Tinsel. They come across as shallow, self-absorbed people who, for the most part, have lost all connections to the true meaning of Christmas. Stuever does inject numerous references to the true meaning of Christmas (primarily with quotes from Christmas icons such as Charles Dickens) and thankfully, there is a section dealing with the work of the Frisco Family Services Center and the Angel Tree program, but it pales in comparison to the craziness of the over-spending that so many seem to enjoy. Stuever is careful to point out that those featured in Tinsel also do their part, but again, it seems like an afterthought for each. Perhaps Tammie Parnell sums up the theme of Tinsel best when she vows to only spend $500 on each child’s Christmas present, telling her kids they are pampered and don’t need more. Her daughter Emily wants a $1,200 Mac and Tammie says no, but surprise, that’s just what she buys for Emily. Pampered? Spoiled? You be the judge.

Quill says: An over-the-top look at Christmas with people who seem to have lost the true meaning of this special holiday.

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