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9. It's A Wonderful Love.

While the story avoids cheap thrills, and seems to glide smoothly down the path of requited love, it is actually at its core a very disturbing story. As a fitting analogy, I offer you a famous classic: It's A Wonderful Life, the enduring 1946 movie classic starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore among others. This movie was based on an obscure 1939 short story written by a successful but unheralded publishing executive named Philip Van Doren Stern. This story, titled "The Greatest Gift," was inspired by a dream Stern had, based on the spirit of Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. As so often happens in these matters, Stern was unable to find a publisher with vision, so he self-published it in the early 1940s, and gave out copies as Christmas cards to his friends. Through a convoluted spiral of accidents, the story gradually found its way into print ("The Man Who Was Never Born"), and ultimately onto celluloid as the timeless Frank Capra movie we have all seen countless times.

While It's A Wonderful Life takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, New York, Stop By takes place in an equally fictional little town called Emery, Connecticut. The two places could pass for one another, whistle-stops off the beaten path. They would theoretically be quite near each other, actually, on a real map since the two states adjoin—and the mythology of Christmas in Connecticut is part of our cultural memory.

No, Stop By is not a Christmas story, but, as the section titles show, a story of four seasons. Among the key themes it and Stern's story have in common include life and morality in a small town, and the theme of suicide.

Yes, in It's A Wonderful Life, James Stewart's character commits suicide. He throws himself into a raging, icy river out of despair, only to be rescued and fantastically brought back to life by a somewhat bibulous looking 'angel' (Clarence Odbody) played immortally well by the fine English actor Henry Travers. It is noteworthy how such a grim, noir theme manages to be handled in a cozy, acceptable fashion within the warm confines of a Christmas story—and Stop By achieves the same mastery of themes.