Pat Conroy on I Still Dream About You
In 1992, I met Fannie Flagg in Los Angeles at the end of her triumphal march through America to promote her book and movie, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. She was in town because she’d been nominated for an Academy Award for her marvelous screenplay based on her novel. Because my tribe is a man-eating one, I inquired among other southern writers about her reputation. On the road, I’ve encountered writers about as friendly as scorpions or copperheads, and I always like to get a scouting report before I approach any member of my contentious breed. Anne Rivers Siddons told me that she was "a fabulous creature;" Terry Kay added that “she is even better than her novel,” which both of us had loved; and Mark Childress assured me that "she is the best of the best of the best." I met her that night and have loved her ever since.
I just finished her new novel, I Still Dream About You, and it’s a grand thing to have Fannie Flagg’s name carved on my heart again. Her main character is Maggie Fortenberry, a woman with a brand-new plan to change her life but who keeps getting interrupted by phone calls from friends and responsibilities to the troubled real-estate company where she works. A former Miss Alabama who represented her state in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, Maggie is a worthy descendant of those four fabulous women who were the main protagonists in Fried Green Tomatoes. In this novel, as in all of her novels, Fannie Flagg creates memorable characters, great set pieces, and gales of unexpected laughter. When a cop stops Maggie for speeding, Flagg writes one of the most hilarious scenes she has ever created in the oddball world of southern letters. There is a trunk in the attic of an enchanted house for sale that reminded me of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I laughed my way through this book, and I found myself falling in love with Maggie as she kept postponing her plans for reasons of real estate and friendship. Always an artist with her villains, Flagg introduces us to Babs Bingington, a carnivorous real-estate agent who would sell her soul for peanuts to steal a listing from anyone else trying to sell property in her part of Alabama. In fact, the other real-estate agents call her “The Beast of Birmingham,” and she lives up to that title in this funny, well-made novel. There is also a mystery in the center of the story that is solved in a shocking and most satisfying fashion. I Still Dream About You is a love letter to the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama, and it captures a South that seems both original and right to me. Flagg creates a world that you love entering and are reluctant to leave. You fall hard for characters like Hazel Whisenknott, Brenda Peoples—the list goes on and on, and there is great wit and wisdom on every page. I’m still smiling at the passing mention of the man who robbed the First Alabama Bank armed with only a live lobster. She has written a wondrous gift for all of us--five stars for Fannie Flagg.
From Publishers Weekly
Flagg's whimsical heartstring tugger (after Can't Wait to Get to Heaven) follows the continually interrupted suicide attempt of a former Birmingham, Ala., beauty queen, now 60 and a realtor. The 2008 election is hitting the home stretch as former Miss Alabama, Maggie Fortenberry, plans her exit from a world she can no longer bear. Still grieving over the loss of her best friend and unceasingly optimistic boss, Hazel Whizenknott, Maggie feels like a failure: the business is in decline, and she's lamenting a lifetime's worth of chances missed, including turning down her one true love. In fact, she's come up with 16 "perfectly good reasons to jump in the river" and only two reasons not to. Of course, there is hope to be found--professionally, personally, perhaps romantically--even in Maggie's darkest hours. Flagg gives the story some breadth with a subplot about a friend's campaign to become Birmingham's first black mayor. Maggie's quandary, meanwhile, is detailed with Flagg's trademark light touch and a sincere wit that's heavier on heart than sass. (Nov.) (c)
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