On 8th day of Christmas … I read In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

Life, it has oft been noted, does not come with do-overs.

It would be nice if it did since, despite our best intentions, we seem to keep doing things poorly that require a better, more improved iteration and we are, quite simply stuck with the consequences of our annoyingly flawed actions.

Unless, of course, you are lucky/cursed enough to get stuck in the kind of time loops featured in films like Groundhog Day, Looper, Edge of Tomorrow or most recently, Palm Springs, or books like The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stu Turton, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, or the subject of this particular review, In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren.

In that kind of situation, all you have is do-overs, the chance to endlessly recreate yourself, to fix the impossibly broken and to make up for the kinds of mistakes that come with lasting consequences.

But as Russian Doll, starring the incomparable Natasha Leyonne, demonstrated with great humour and pathos, it is very easy for the unexpected blessing of a do-over to become the curse of the never-permanently-realised.

In most time loops, if not all, you go around and around the hamster wheel, the same day repeating itself ad infinitum; you may become a better person, you may make great strides in your understanding of the world and other people, or you might, like Maelyn Jones find yourself wondering why the hell you can’t catch a break in a life that seems stuck in a rut and hopelessly irredeemable.

“If I died today, what would be written about me? That I’m an obsessive peacekeeper? That I put together a serviceable spreadsheet? That I also loved art? That I couldn’t ever figure out what it was that I truly wanted?

Tuning out the sounds of Judy Garland on the radio, I close my eyes and make a silent please: Universe. What am I doing with my life? Please. I want …” (P. 29)

Actually, it’s not that bad, but as with most things in life, perception is nine-tenths of the law and as far as Maisie sees things, her life is nowhere near where she wants it to be.

She is 26, in love with Andrew Polley Hollis, the eldest son of family friends, Ricky and Lisa, with whom her family holiday every year in a long-held Hollis cabin in Park City, Utah, who it seems doesn’t see her in those terms (despite their lifelong friendship), her job is unsatisfyingly deadend, and while she is surrounded by an extended family made up of Ricky and her dad’s old college friends, who are like uncles to her, she doesn’t feel like all her emotional ducks are happily in a row.

So unhappy is she, even in the warm embrace of her sprawling family’s annual festive get-together, that as she and her family pull away from the cabin and head back to the soul-sapping drudgery of real life, that she wishes the universe would show her what makes it happy.

So, the universe does, and like every character caught in a time loop, she is none too relaxed about the fact that her desperate wish has been granted.

She is, in fact, royally freaked out, whacking her brother Miles, sitting next to her on the plane taking them to the annual get-together she has just finished, in the face, convinced, you would be, that she is losing her mind.

Christina Lauren (image via Wikipedia)

Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t, but as In a Holidaze get into its imaginative, fun-filled, romantic comedy-laced stride, Maisie as she is often called, realises she has a golden opportunity to reshape her life in a way that makes, and the people she loves, truly happy.

But what does that look like exactly?

Maisie isn’t entirely sure but as she repeats her six-day festival of fun and family, now with extra supernatural weirdness, she comes to realise, with the help of Benny, her “uncle” who is wise and understanding in a way that only those removed from your immediate inner circle can be, what is going to make her life truly come happily alive.

What makes In a Holidaze such a lot of entertaining fun to read is that Christina Lauren – the pen name of New York Times bestselling authors, Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings – goes all out to make sure that what could be just a bright, ball of reality-bending rom-com fluff in lesser hands becomes something with real emotive legs.

The characters are bright and vivacious, the dialogue crisp and brilliantly delivered in a way that recalls the very best examples of the rom-com and time loop genres, and the story moves along at a brisk, often warmly funny and always emotionally meaningful pace.

“Ricky bolts up as soon as the coffeemaker beeps that it’s done brewing, and I use the opportunity to give Andrew a warning expression that I can’t seem to hold; it immediately cracks into a smile that feels like sunlight on my face. In my head, Julie Andrews sings and spins on an Austrian mountainside. Confetti bursts from a glittery cannon. A flock of birds take glorious flight from the top of an enormous tree. I am silvery, glimmering happiness.” (P. 206)

The thing about In a Holidaze is that it doesn’t radically reinterpret either the time loop or romantic comedy genres, which form the basis of its narrative.

What it does do is use to devastatingly clever and highly enjoyable effect.

You honestly get the sense that all of the older adult characters, who have known each other for thirty years plus and their kids, who as a result are lifelong friends, are really a family, and that they matter to each other, an emotional centering point that anchors the story’s more fantastical elements.

There is a warmth and authenticity to their exchanges that makes what happens to Maisie on her various runs those six days, some short and long, feel richly real and tangible.

Grounding her extraordinary tale in such a beautiful environment of unconditional love, acceptance and inclusion grants In a Holidaze a deliciously appealing emotional substance that makes its tale of happiness found feel deeply and pleasingly rewarding.

In short, In a Holidaze is a lot of fun to read, feeling like a cosy blanket wrapped around you on a cold Christmas night whose effect isn’t fleeting, reaching deep down inside of you for the duration as you grow to hold great affection for the characters and for the world they inhabit, wishing all the time that Maisie will find her happiness, the guy of her dreams and a future that busts loose of the time loop and finds its place in the messy, unpredictable chronology of life.

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