Winter of her discontent
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:00 PM
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.
Thats 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 Rabes 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 couldnt muster up much sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Thats it, she told him. Im going to have to put you in a book and punish you because youve 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, Id 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 Joys and Bobs marriage. She took it a little personally.
I was horrified...I thought, Im miserable and I didnt 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 theres 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 doesnt 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 its really about compromise.
Rabe, who wrote over a dozen romance novels under her own name before moving toward contemporary womens 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 Rabes writing buddies to form a mock picket line.
While the Rabes recently re-located to a house by a lake in South Kitsap, she cant bring herself to part with her Bainbridge home just yet. Especially at this, her favorite time of the year.
Theres 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.
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.