I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
|I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: The author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe does it again with a warm satisfying story about life, love and just being human with a historical mystery thrown in as an enthralling extra.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: June 2012|
At the age of 60, Maggie Fortenbury's glory days seem to have passed her by. An ex-Miss Alabama, she headed for the fame she dreamt of in 'the Big Apple' and ended, instead, making disastrous life choices that took her along a different route. However she had made one good decision: to work for the diminutive Hazel Whisenkott, midget and founder of Red Mountain Realty. Now, as Hazel is dead, and despite her friendship with her colleagues (obese, optimistic Brenda and moaning Ethel), suicide seems the next logical step. It has to be done correctly as Maggie comes from an era when you wouldn't want to let anyone down or any commitment unfulfilled. Therefore picking her final day becomes increasingly difficult when other things get in the way, including a troupe of Whirling Dervishes.
Fannie Flagg wasn't a name that I was familiar with, despite being very much aware of the award winning movie based on her previous novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I admit this in shame with a firm commitment to correct it as, within a couple of chapters of I Still Dream About You, I was totally smitten.
It doesn't take long for us to care about Maggie and understand why she wants to commit suicide once she materialises before us as a person whose dreams have been massacred by life. One joy of this book (and joy is the right word as it is respectfully funny as well as touching) is that this empathy and connection between reader and character doesn't just happen once. This is indeed an ensemble piece where everyone walks off the page. There's chubby Brenda, ashamed of her over-eating and living in fear of her sister finding out the weapon she used to fight off a mugger (a hot fudge sundae). There's Hazel (whom we get to know in flashback) who's not only an accomplished business woman revelling in and utilising what others would consider to be her disability. She's also has a natural facility for bringing out the best in those whom society casts out. Where there's good there's also bad, embodied here by the deliciously named Babs Bingington, the rival real estate agent who will stop at nothing to complete a sale.
The second joy is that Ms Flagg is fearless, refusing to veer away from big issues. This novel is set in her home town of Birmingham, Alabama, location of the most viciously put-down civil rights march which occurred in 1963. Far from shying away from this, we're shown two sides of innocence from that day: the effects on the black community, through Brenda's story and, also, the collateral damage exacted on the whites who weren't racist, just living alongside a racist regime. There are enough twists, character depth and back stories to last an entire novel, but we're treated to more. Halfway through the book Ms Flagg interweaves a mystery connected with Brenda and Maggie's interesting discovery in the attic. As the past slowly unfolds, we're treated (and, again, treated is the word) to curved balls in a Philippa Gregory type history sweeping through the 17th to 19th centuries.
Joy three: there aren't just panoramas; there are subtly observed minutiae and ironies too. For instance someone wanting to compliment an overweight person and settling for telling them they have 'cute' teeth, or the mental picture of a suicide note being composed whilst a phone rings out with 'I'm Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover' – the ultimate song of optimism.
The book's blurb refers to I Still Dream About You as being cocoa. I know what they mean – a warm, welcoming treat, but it's so much more than that. I Still Dream About You makes us realise that we measure our success by the height of our abandoned dreams pile, whereas others judge us by what we do and are; same life, different perception, different result. In this way we're encouraged to reassess ourselves positively. That makes a novel like this just like a chocolate product: something we don't experience often enough.
I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.
If you've enjoyed this then perhaps you'll also like The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler.
You can read more book reviews or buy I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg at Amazon.com.
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