"I Still Dream About You" by Fannie Flagg
Random House, 315 pp., $26
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Fannie Flagg is one of our finest Southern writers. Her most recent novel prior to this one, "Can't Wait to Get to Heaven," is quite simply a modern American classic, a treasure to be re-read.
"I Still Dream About You" may be Flagg's most personal literary work to-date, however, as she spotlights a sixtyish former Miss Alabama from humble beginnings (living over the lobby of the Dreamland Theatre, in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama-- the author's home town, where her father worked as a movie projectionist) who dreamed big yet never fulfilled the promises that life seemed to hold for her.
Moreover, Maggie Fortenberry has watched helplessly as her beloved hometown has crumbled from its halcyon days as "The Magic City" into a so-called revitalized version of itself that bears little resemblance to the graciousness and glamour of its glory years.
Indeed, Maggie believes she has been left in a world to which she no longer belongs, and is therefore making serious preparations to end it all-- as discreetly, tastefully, and tactfully as would befit her design for living.
Maggie-- as well as octogenarian Ethel Clipp and politically minded woman-of-color Brenda Peoples-- were all saved at dire points in their lives by the eternally effervescent, live-life-to-the-fullest real-estate maven Hazel Whisenknott, who by society's superficial standards could have been dismissed as a freak.
The late-and-much-lamented Hazel-- whom we come to know via Flagg's artfully interspersed flashbacks-- decided to flip that freakishness into a business asset, becoming an all-around "people person" and beloved Birmingham businesswoman.
However, without Hazel, Red Mountain Realty has dwindled into a remnant of what it was in its heyday, trounced by the likes of spectacularly unethical realtor Babs Bibbington, whom Ethel in particular blames for Hazel's unexpected demise.
Flagg places a memorable cast against a Southern skyscape in every hue from sunrise pink-and-gold to sunset orange-and-violet. Hon, all you have to do is say, "lemon icebox pie," and we know where you drew your first breath and where you'll take your last.
But not for a long time and more novels later.
Thematically, in Flagg's oeuvre, the present and future hinge upon the past. Once a character unlocks a door to the past-- as Brenda literally does in an important scene-- the present is elucidated, and the future can be faced with clarity.
As with most of the author's novels, there's a mystery underlying the proceedings, something deliciously ironic that proves that you just never know ... so you just have to hang in there.
Here's a fanfare for Miss Flagg and her latest feel-good novel.
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