Tim Greaton has mastered the art of converting real emotions into words in this novel. Despair, grief, heartache, determination, and redemption are all brought to life through Greaton’s words in this book.
Skip Ralstat is homeless and depressed on the streets of Albany. His beautiful wife and son died in a fire on Christmas Eve and he blames himself for not being able to save them. In the year since their deaths, Skip has lost his home, his job, his friends, and himself. He will not allow himself happiness in any way as punishment for their deaths. The reader gets a point of view of homelessness through the eyes of a homeless man who once had everything – education, career, family, home, friends – and lost it all through a tragedy. There are a few people who show kindness toward Skip and other homeless people in Albany, but most people turn their backs and look at them as if the homeless are a pustulous disease they are trying to avoid at all costs.
Shortly before Christmas Eve, Skip encounters another homeless man who yanks him out of the path of a speeding train, ironically, as Skip is deep in thought about committing suicide. The stranger later tells him about a bridge in Vermont, called Christmas Leap, that people commit suicide at every Christmas Eve. Skip becomes determined to atone for his wife and son’s deaths on Christmas Eve at this bridge. However, once he arrives in Gray, Vermont, things start to change for Skip as a new set of chapters in his life begin.
Greaton has a clear gift of being able to get his readers to feel the emotion that his characters are feeling. This book is a well-written, heartbreaking glimpse into the mind of a homeless man. I could not put this book down once I started it. The reader can feel Skip’s loss and grief, his reactions to how people act around him, and his hope and new-found purpose in life at the end of the book. How many of us are just a tragedy away from setting in motion the downward spiral to homelessness or deep depression like Skip? Readers have no choice but to love this character and want a happy ending for him.
I have only one complaint about Greaton’s book. After Skip meets the Grim Reaper and takes on his new role, the book suddenly fast forwards two years to when Skip leaves Gray. Greaton created a character that readers care about, so it’s only natural to want to read about his path back to happiness. What happened after he was Santa for the first time? Did he prevent others from committing suicide? How did he and Karen start dating? What is his new role as a Samaritan like? Does he take a job in the toy store? There could be an entire story about Skip’s recovery in Vermont. That should have been book 2 in the series. I sure hope Greaton revisits Skip’s life in Vermont.