By Fannie Flagg
Random House, 2010
$26, Hardcover; $26, eBook; $40, CD
Reviewed by Julia Oliver
The first sentence on the jacket flap describes Fannie Flagg’s latest—actually, her sixth—novel as "a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future." I would not put "comic" in the lead place there. Since the landslide success thirteen years ago of her novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, luminous, light-hearted humor has been a key factor in Flagg’s style of writing. This time around, the light is more sepia-toned. The reader learns early on that the main character, residential real-estate agent Maggie Fortenberry, whose main claim to fame was being an almost-Miss America some forty years before, has decided to commit suicide. At age sixty, Maggie is "too young to retire and not smart enough to learn a new profession.... It was obvious that the best of her life was behind her. So, why continue to struggle?...She was simply, quietly and discreetly, and with as little fanfare as possible, leaving life a little earlier than expected, that’s all." Maggie doesn’t blame anyone but herself for having missed out on marriage and motherhood. She’d spent those years having an affair with a man who was married to someone else.
Not surprisingly, Fannie Flagg’s story-spinning skills have come through in spades for her again. What appears at first to be a sentimental, comfortingly set in Alabama women’s novel soon becomes a sophisticated, ocean-crossing, intricately-plotted mystery. The cast includes strong characters (such as the mean-spirited villainess with a rival realty firm) with solo roles in chapters of their own. Each chapter has a title, which gives the book an air of old-fashioned formality.
Backtracking to my earlier statement about the comical aspect: There is plenty of sharp witticism throughout this sometimes somber narrative, and the celebrity author (who lives in Alabama and California) reassures us from time to time that there will be a rainbow ending. Jan. 2011
Julia Oliver is a novelist, journalist, and playwright in Montgomery.