A Christmas Wreck {Book Club}

Hello Book Clubbers! Welcome to our first December short story. Reading can get pushed to the side in the midst of the ministry opportunities. Note I said it can, that doesn’t mean it has to! I have to admit, I haven’t naturally been drawn to reading short stories. In part, I think it’s because the competitive side of me that likes to track what I’m reading doesn’t feel that I get enough “credit” for reading short stories.

For those of you who aren’t wired to like to measure what you do, this line of reasoning must sound absurd. And it is (though, my heart is still not completely convinced). Once again we can see why we need community! Knowing others are reading the short stories and wanting to be a part of the discussion, (and because I’m a fairly loyal member of any group I join), I’ve grown to enjoy our December short stories.

This week we are reading The Christmas Wreck by Frank Stockton. I’ll share a bit about the author, but then I’ll start discussing the story. If you don’t want to read any spoilers, stop after the next paragraph.

Frank Stockton is not well known to modern readers but he was quite popular during the late 1880s and early 1900s when he published a series of children’s fairy-tales. His father was a Methodist minister in Philadelphia who discouraged him from making a career as a writer. As a result, Stockton worked as a wood engraver until his father’s death in 1860. In 1867, Stockton began to write for a newspaper founded by his brother and published his first fairy tale, ‘Ting-a-ling,’ later that year.

Hmmm. Okay so Frank’s dad didn’t want him to be a writer, but his brother started a newspaper? Did that jump out to anyone else? It’s possible, that his brother didn’t start the newspaper until after their father’s death. But I just found it interesting that one son ran a newspaper and the other wrote for it.

Also of interest, Stockton was from the US, but placed The Christmas Wreck in Australia. I read the story before I read his bio and was surprised to find he was an American. I wonder if he wrote about how hot the characters were on a freezing night in Philly? He painted quite the picture of the heat, didn’t he? And the longing for something grown from a tree.

I loved the title: The Christmas Wreck. Of course, on one level it refers to the ship being wrecked, but I think the title could nudge us to think beyond the mere obvious. What if they had left Tom as the captain? They probably would have starved to death. What other ways do you see how the idea of wreck played out in the story?

Picturing Old Silas and Mr. Nugent “stuck” out on the water waiting for the wind, I was reminded how some of the best stories come when we need to kill time. Waiting for meat to roast, waiting to board a plane, waiting for the electricity to come back on. I can almost feel Mr. Nugent’s anticipation of a good story as he had nothing else to do, so might as well enjoy it!

After the storm had come and only Silas, Tom, and Andy had survived, I could relate to Andy’s obsession with the food below them that they couldn’t get to. The juxtaposition of the food and Christmas time made me think of the life of cross-cultural service. Certain times of the year it is easier to bear being separated from something (in this case food) or people. Being Christmas time, it just seemed maddening to be sitting on top of all that perfectly safe food  . . . and yet not be able to get to it.

Initially, what did you think of the decision to blow up part of the boat to get to the food instead of trying to pump out the water and salvage the whole ship?

Have you done something that might have seemed short-sighted, but ended up being a good call?

The actual blowing up seemed so believable. Get a bunch of guys together, and I could see them working out such a plan.

Picturing Andy first with the box of pidgin pies and then with the peaches, just made me smile. There have been times when getting a package slip, biking across town, negotiating all the hoops at the post office, felt like I had to blast open a boat to get at a package. In the end, I felt the way Andy did.

I loved how the story ended with supper winds coming and how peaches would always have a special place for Silas because of the wrecked Christmas.

Did you like the story? Find the Australian, 1880’s English hard to follow? How did this story relate to different parts of your life?

See you in the comments!


December 20th: How Christmas Came to the Santa Maria Flats by Elia W. Peattie December 27th: The Pony Engine and the Pacific Express by William Dean Howells


  1. Ruth December 13, 2016

    I like the idea from the beginning of Christmas that comes too soon. A few years ago, I was in a time of waiting and struggle during Advent. The themes and emphasis of Advent–waiting, hope, quiet, longing, expectation–really resonated in my life that year. Christmas came with its joy and celebration, but my life circumstances hadn’t changed. I wished it was still Advent, Christmas had come too soon for me.

    1. Amy Young December 13, 2016

      Ruth, I love this comment! Yes, some years Christmas does seem to come too soon, doesn’t it?

    2. Phyllis December 18, 2016

      I loved this story. I like stories of simple, satisfying Christmases. 🙂

      The bit about Christmas coming too soon was what stuck me, too. I came over here wanting to ask about it. This year I have really gone deep into Advent. I have spent so much time in quiet places with my longings and thoughts of waiting. I am afraid that I won’t be able to turn the corner to celebration. What do I do with that?

      1. Ruth December 18, 2016

        It’s hard when your emotions don’t fit the church year…. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for celebration, either. I think it is okay to be quieter in your celebration (and wait for Lent).

  2. Heidi December 13, 2016

    Loved the story. Took a moment or two to get the hang of the Australian, but all is good. I am a very practice person so when the captain of the other ship suggested salvaging the cargo I was right there with them. When the focus of food over took what “I” thought was common sense I went a little crazy in my head. (Proof that I was very engaged in the story). But the end of the story about how it all would have been lost any how really made me think. How many times have I missed out on “Christmas dinner” by being overly practicle and not taking the time to live in the moment and partake of a blessing.

    1. Amy Young December 13, 2016

      Heidi, agree on the Australian. If I said it out loud in my head, I seemed to do better :). And it also helped when I told myself not to stress and enjoy the story :). You bring out an excellent point on the tension between being practical and also wanting (dare I say needing?) “Christmas dinner.” I’m going to be pondering this thought today! Thanks.

  3. Raven December 13, 2016

    The Australian English was quite difficult until I, too, read it out loud in my head. Thankfully, it got easier the further I read.

    This made me wonder what I would do in the situation – blow the ship or try to pump out the water? Blowing things up, while it sounds fun and entertaining, only happens on the rare occasion that I’m in the States for the 4th and even then I leave it to others. We just don’t cross paths often! I would have been the vote to try to pump out the water trying to salvage as much as possible.

    Similar to Heidi, wanting to be practical and salvage as much as I can, otherwise known as be super particular and make sure everything follows a well thought out plan, I can easily get caught up and miss out. I can miss out even when I am present, experiencing it alongside everyone else, but preoccupied with what I deem important. Sometimes choosing the “blow everything up” route might be okay. Things don’t always go the way we want and we can either fret and miss out or go with it and enjoy it while we can, because maybe Plan B should have been Plan A all along.

    1. Amy Young December 13, 2016

      Raven, I love how you phrase the choice at “blow the boat up” or “pump the water.” I guess that in those type of situations, I’m more of a “blow everything up” kind of person. I think I’d explore if we really, really, really could pump and if not, I’m the kind of person to pull the plug and blow something up :). Fun to see how different we all are!

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