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Winter of her discontent

Local author Sheila Rabe reads from ‘On Strike for Christmas.’

Nothing can more thoroughly undo a happy couple than mis-matched expectations at the holidays.

That’s the mirthful, mine-laden terrain Shelia Rabe tromps through in her newest novel, “On Strike for Christmas.”

“‘Desperate Housewives’ meets ‘Scrooge’ is probably the best way to sum it up,” she said.

It all started on the way home from Thanksgiving dinner two years ago, when Rabe’s husband of over 30 years, Robert, began vocally and grumpily bracing himself for the holiday onslaught.

The author, while aware that her husband had endured more than his fair share of her exuberant family at the holidays, still couldn’t muster up much sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“That’s it,” she told him. “I’m going to have to put you in a book and punish you because you’ve been naughty.”

“On Strike,” written under the pen name Sheila Roberts, chronicles a group of disgruntled friends who set out to teach their clueless, perennially under-appreciative husbands a thing or two about what makes the holidays happen by collectively abandoning the entire endeavor.

With the gauntlet of cookie cutters thrown down, comedy ensues along with a toy bag full of relationship politics.

Rabe, who will read from the novel Sunday afternoon at Eagle Harbor Book Co., fully admits to filching from her own years of wedded bliss to a man whom she calls her polar opposite.

“We really are the prototype for (characters) Joy and Bob,” she said. “If I could have company every day of December, I’d be a happy camper. And my husband likes to have a silent night every once in a while.”

When long-time islander Rabe started showing chapters to her writing critique group, she said they were appalled at the dysfunctional state of Joy’s and Bob’s marriage. She took it a little personally.

“I was horrified...I thought, I’m miserable and I didn’t know it,” Rabe said.

In all seriousness, the writer scored anecdotal backup from members of area book clubs, whose discussions of “On Strike” uncovered a consistent theme of imbalance among partners’ approaches to the holidays that mapped to her own experience.

When the Rabes were newlyweds, for instance, they happily decorated their tree together. Then kids came, and the family did it together. Then Sheila started doing it with the kids. And when the kids left home, she did it on her own.

Amidst building resentment and a “bare-naked” artificial tree in the middle of her living room awaiting attention from someone, it finally occurred to her to just...ask.

“Well there’s a concept,” she said.

She and Robert now have plans to trim the tree together in contented and non-pressured bliss this year, and to take a more generally laid-back approach to Christmas that doesn’t involve 50 of their closest friends each weekend.

“Which is another thing I think the book is about,” she said. “Everyone does have a definition of what makes the holidays wonderful, and it’s really about compromise.”

Rabe, who wrote over a dozen romance novels under her own name before moving toward contemporary women’s fiction, says Robert has read “On Strike” and is completely on board.

He even agreed to appear at the signing as “Bob Humbug,” inspring the husbands of Rabe’s writing buddies to form a mock picket line.

While the Rabes recently re-located to a house by a lake in South Kitsap, she can’t bring herself to part with her Bainbridge home just yet. Especially at this, her favorite time of the year.

“There’s nothing like a small town Christmas,” she said. “And Bainbridge still has that small-town feel. I hope they can keep it as it continues to grow.”

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Oh Tanenbomb

Sheila Rabe, writing as Sheila Roberts, will read from “On Strike for Christmas” at 3 p.m. Dec. 2 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. See www.sheilasplace.com.

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