Book Review: In the Days of the Angels by Walter Wangerin

Walter Wangerin Jr.In the Days of the Angels is a collection of short stories and songs related to Christmas. I picked it up because I enjoy reading books like this during Advent. Creative writers like Wangerin help me see nuances in Christmas story that I would otherwise easily miss.

The stories all feel autobiographical – though I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case. One gut-wrenching story about his brother, a college football star, seemed to indicate that he had only two siblings. However later in the book another story featured a larger family. So…I was a bit confused and just assumed one or both were supposed to have been considered fiction.

The author is a musician in addition to being a writer. The included songs are beautiful and provide interesting breaks between the stories. I appreciated their placement between the stories because sometimes reading a collection of fiction or memoir-ish essays can feel like watching too many TV shows in a row – they all blend together. The songs, by and large, are simple, but deeply emotional reflections on the advent season. (One song I would describe as whimsical rather than deeply emotional, but it’s only one). Music for each song is included in the back of the book.

Walt Wangerin is clearly a gifted writer. He writes like a poet, with sentences that have been carefully crafted, and with imagery and powerful subtleties. Fans of real “literature” (if you’ll allow the generalization) will enjoy Wangerin’s writing.

I thought this book was moody (for lack of a better word). Unlike other Christmas books I’ve read it didn’t leave me hopeful, or even reverent. I closed the book feeling sort of “down.” I found many of the stories to be somewhere on the spectrum between melancholy and heart-breaking. I don’t fault Wangerin for writing stories that I consider “moody,” it’s just not my preferred emotion for holiday reading. I realize, however, that the Christmas season can be a sensitive, painful time for some people. With that in mind I think this collection will be a blessing to many, many readers.

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