By Bruce Fretts
Updated November 21, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

If you believe the publisher’s press release (and that’s almost as rational as believing in Santa), John Grisham’s novella Skipping Christmas is ”certain to become as timeless and beloved a classic as ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Grinch.”’ Grisham certainly begs comparisons to Scrooge with his main character, the all-too-aptly named Luther Krank, a miserly modern-day tax accountant who decides to save the money he’d normally spend on decorations and gifts and take his wife, Nora, on a cruise instead. (The cutesy monikers don’t end with the Kranks — two of Nora’s Xmas-obsessed friends are named Candi and Merry.)

Even at 177 minipages, ”Skipping Christmas” feels padded, as Luther’s attempt to elude the holiday celebration becomes a scandal in his unnamed town. The furor over his refusal to join all the other homeowners on his block and put a Frosty the Snowman statue on his roof is meant to be a satire of suburbia, but it reads more like a bad sitcom. (Plus, are there no Jews, Buddhists, or Muslims in this neighborhood?) Despite a few nicely observed details — like Nora’s emergency stash of Christmas cards, ”so she could respond immediately to an unexpected card” — Grisham mostly trades in stale fruitcake jokes and sub?”Christmas Vacation” slapstick. Like his recent coming-of-age novel, ”A Painted House,” ”Skipping” represents a departure for the king of the legal thrillers, but in this case, it’s to an unworthy destination.