Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners (Park Row) is the perfect pre-holiday read to put your own frenzied parties and dysfunctional family dynamics into perspective. Gretchen Anthony has spun a domestic drama revolving around a mother with a tight hold on her cherished family image, and the events that follow once her carefully cultivated life spirals with a secret released at an inopportune time.

Violet Baumgartner is many things, dictator of the annual parish Christmas Fair, a supportive wife of a successful scientist and the mother of a bright engineer. She holds her family dearer than anything, and wants everyone else to recognize their excellence as well. Every year she pens Christmas letters, which document the family triumphs of their year and the obstacles they have overcome which in her mind project them as thriving members of the community. Violet finds happiness in grooming her daughter Cerise to strive for moral and academic perfection and lauding her husband for his achievements in a spare-no-expense retirement party.

However, Violet’s perfect world suddenly tilts when someone beats Cerise to the punch announcing her pregnancy at her husband’s retirement party. Her world tilts in a metaphorical sense, but also in a very real sense, as she passes out cold upon hearing the news, taking a whole table of party glasses down with her.  One thing to be sure, Violet Baumgartner never does anything halfway — she is landed in the hospital with a serious concussion and several stitches from the episode. Cerise, guilt-ridden about not telling her mother about the baby sooner, seeks to make peace with her mother, but finds it won’t be so easy…

Cerise is a lesbian in a committed relationship with her partner Barb. They never married, but have been living with each other for years and feel that their dynamic is obvious to everyone in the family and neighborhood, supposedly straightforward until the new addition to their home is announced. While Cerise’s father Ed is supportive (and excited) about his incoming grandchild, Violet remains a ball of nerves.

Feeling entitled to her apprehension when her family’s name has been smeared in the past due to town gossip, Violet does not want to have the members of this small Minnesota town wagging their tongues as to how Cerise became pregnant. While Cerise maintains that the spectacle of the announcement is the seed of her mother’s distress, Barb believes that she may be overlooking a deep-seated wish that Cerise could have a straight relationship firmly set in the town’s norm.

Cerise’s newly announced pregnancy may have shocked some of the residents, but this event is not the only spark of conversation in a normally sleepy town. Violet’s close friend Eldris is pinching pennies since her husband Richard was laid off of his job. Richard suddenly comes into some large cash though, the only cost being that he has strange disappearances for lapses of time doing things his wife can only try to speculate.

As Violet tries to limit the gossip and take a role in her developing grandchild’s life, she frustrates the mothers and draws friends and neighbors into flawed yet hilarious plans to reinstate her control over the family image.

All the while mysterious statues made out of chicken wire start to regularly appear in front of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, left by a group called “the watchers” that leave authorities feeling flummoxed. This holiday season is sure to be a lively one.

Told through the alternating perspectives of Violet, Cerise, and Richard, the relationships between mother and daughter, daughter and partner and family and community are tried and tested as they each weave (or perhaps rudely bump) into each other in new ways. Anthony’s witty and thoughtful debut is full of characters you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find in your own community, and will be sure to enchant any luck readers who receive it as a present.

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners is now available to purchase.

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Photo: M. Brian Hartz

Gretchen Anthony is a Minnesota-based writer and humorist whose work has been featured on ScaryMommy.com, Medium.com, and TheWriteLife.com. She’s also spent decades as a ghostwriter and has written for some of the best personal brands in the United States, from CEOs to doctors and startup superstars to BBQ pros. Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners is her first novel.