My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Christmas Story is probably my favorite holiday movie, so it is with some trepidation that I finally got myself to start Jean Shepherd's book, on which much of the film is based. I try to keep away from comparisons of books and movies. They are different art forms, and so should be judged separately. And since only about three and a half chapters from this book are actually in the movie, that distinction seems even more important.
But I cannot help but make a couple of notes. For me, the movie is a funnier experience. Part of the movie's charm is Shepherd's narration, deadpan and filled with hysterical description and hyperbole. For those sections of In God We Trust that are dramatized, however, Shepherd sometimes tells more than shows. Oddly, the book as a whole is not like this. Many of the stories here are told with rich and delightful details, much like what we see and hear in the film.
In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash is a collection of remembrances held together by the narrator (Ralph) as a grown man visiting his old hometown and spending the day sitting in the bar talking to the proprietor, his old friend, Flick. Ralph has escaped the industrial crumbling town to live and work in New York. As the day keeps going (and many beers have been drunk), Ralph goes over a variety of incidents, including his quest for the Red Ryder BB Gun, his father's "special award," his first fishing trip with the Old Man, a funny marching band story. Along the way we see Ralph's triumphs and embarrassments as well as a mostly warm picture of life during the Depression. (The images of angry women throwing gravy boats and Ralph trying to explain The Decameron of Boccaccio still make me laugh out loud.)
Shepherd's semi-autobiographical book is a satisfying read. Don't expect the movie. However, like the film, the book reminds us of our own stories and friendships. Expect to be entertained and to remember a few things.
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