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December 22, 2017

A. J. Finn: Hope’s Unexpected Gift

Posted by tom

We wrap up this year’s Holiday Author Blog series with A. J. Finn, whose debut novel, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, is a psychological thriller about an agoraphobic woman who believes she witnessed a crime in a neighboring house. A. J. recalls one Christmas Eve when he spotted a present under the tree that came from his sister, Hope. He knew it was a book, but had to spend a long, restless night pondering just what that hardback was that he held in his hands earlier that day and desperately wanted to unwrap. Read on to discover the package’s surprising contents.

The gift was obviously a book. I’d wanted a puppy --- we all did. Our Westie had just perished beneath the wheels of the family Volvo. (Twenty-five years later, my mother would run over another pet, this one a sheepdog. “She must be stopped before she kills again,” I vowed. “Let us preserve her brain for science.”)

But we wouldn’t adopt a Labrador for another six months. And in the meantime, there it was, slid beneath the drooping lower boughs of the Christmas tree: an inch-thick, six-by-nine rectangle. Not a puppy, I concluded, with reasonable certainty.

Here is youre present, the gift tag read in straggling red ink.Youre sister, HOPE.

She hadn’t bought the gift, of course. For one thing, she was seven, two years my junior, and for another, she refused to spend money, in case it had feelings. For the same reason she declined to dispose of plastic sandwich bags. It would be some time before Hope got herself a boyfriend.

Earlier that Christmas Eve, during one of our more spirited debates, I had called her a “prick,” a word I’d discovered in a Carl Hiaasen novel smuggled from my parents’ library the previous day. STRIP TEASE: I assumed, wrongly, that it was a volume of jokes and insults --- you know, ammunition for teasing. I assumed further, and wronglier, that “prick” described a person who needled someone else.

You’re a prick,” Hope countered.

I scoffed. “You don’t even know what that means.”

“I know you are one.”


Now I brushed my fingers over the wrapping paper --- satiny, I remember, and printed with snowmen in various states of construction, which even at the time struck me as unsettling. Still: Hope had given me a book! Nothing, with the obvious exception of a puppy, could so delight me as a book! I devoured paperbacks on a daily basis; I preserved each and every one on my bedroom shelf, even the lesser specimens. (I wouldn’t trash them, lest they had feelings. It would be some time before I got myself a boyfriend.)

I reflected that for Hope to gift a book unto me --- even a book that one parent or another had purchased on her behalf --- was a touching gesture. She and I hadn’t always meshed, I allowed. I once dropped a brick on her head as she played in the dirt beneath a picnic bench, for example, and on another occasion I obliterated her four front teeth during a karate battle; in retaliation, she would raid my piggy bank and swallow as many coins as she could stomach, or dismember my Lego astronauts. Not until our youngest sister was born did we cease afflicting each other. “Finally, someone small we can beat up,” we celebrated.

But now, as I clutched the book in my hands --- a hardback, no less! --- the holiday spirit glowed within me, kindling my heart. I was in need of reading material; I’d just finished Ellen Raskin’s THE WESTING GAME for the fourth time, and the baseball novels of Matt Christopher weren’t doing much for me. I despised them. “What’s a catcher?” I asked my father.

“He’s the one who sits behind the guy at bat.”

I nodded. “What’s a bat?”

So Hope’s timing was providential. Good old Hope, I mused; for all her quirks and clinical psychosis, she meant well. And why had I dumped that brick on her head? Me of little faith. Now I held in my hands a book, courtesy of mine enemy. I’d learned a few weeks earlier about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, or “book flood,” a spree that culminated on Christmas Eve, when the natives would exchange books and stay up all night reading them. Oh, to be Icelandic, I thought. Oh, to open this present now.

I turned the gift tag over and read Hope’s postscript:

Merry Crissmas YOU PRIK

My instinct was to shave her dolls’ heads. It would be my finest hour. Except, I reasoned, she might then rescind her gift. And I wanted that book.

And so, dear reader, I spent that long Christmas Eve gritting and grinding my teeth. The promise of a new novel haunted my head as I caved into sleep; the prospect of a fresh story ignited my brain when I awoke in the middle of the night to void my bladder. And the following morning, as I sprang from bed and stampeded downstairs, I congratulated myself on my forbearance. I now deserved this book. I had earned it.

I spotted Hope circling the tree --- looking for a puppy, no doubt; bless her, the simpleton --- and pounced on my present, now propped up against an errant branch. “Merry Christmas!” I chirped, beaming at my sister, as I ripped open the package to find a new Matt Christopher novel.