Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Standing in the Rainbow

I opened the discussion today by saying that I had spent some time this morning reading Amazon reviews of this book. I was surprised by those who had rated it with one star, and one reader pondered if she were reading the same book as those rating it with five-stars. Wilma said she would like to know what age those one-star readers were. Good question! Our group spent an hour talking about the things we loved about this book, but we are pretty much of a common age. Amazon critics faulted her failure to develop the characters she had introduced in her earlier book, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl, but it wasn't their story.

I asked whose story they thought this book was and without hesitation, Lucy responded - Elmwood Springs! As a character, the town was fully developed through her large cast. We loved the many famous names like Bess Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Elvis Presley that she threaded throughout the narrative. We also noted that in spite of so many characters and interactions, the story wasn't confusing or difficult to follow. We found ample opportunities to laugh and cry.

The fifty years this book spans starts with a town where everyone stays together and grows old together, where the oldies cluster around Ed's barbershop for his "special" eggnog, seeing each other as aged versions of the youngsters they were, and progresses to where one by one, they participate in an American diaspora and move away. I said that as I got closer to the end I started thinking of Steve Miller's song, Fly Like an Eagle, especially the phrase, "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future" When Normal and Macky bought a unit sight unseen in a Florida retirement community, I felt so much of Flagg's thoughts were delivered through Macky. "Life as he had known it was all over." "Macky wandered around the complex. Not only was he in a different state, he was in a different world and he was lost. " Many of our parents have been there, and some of us have or will be, perhaps even Flagg herself.

Which reminds me, Cheryl dropped the bomb that her husband has accepted a job and they will be moving soon. It struck me as an illustration of what Flagg had written; could have been right out of the book. And interestingly, as Wilma shared how they came to Reno five years ago, after her husband's illness, she said she would move wherever he wanted and he chose here. Is that Norma and Macky, or what?!

We were in agreement that the death of Neighbor Dorothy's was powerfully and succinctly delivered though the radio announcement. Her radio show was yet another character and through it we met Mother Smith by her organ playing and Dorothy's repeating her comments into the mic, comments we only heard through Dorothy.

At the end of the discussion, Lucy asked who our favorite character was. She is our youngest member and we thought it interesting that her favorite character was Betty Ray, one of the youngest characters. But then, it didn't matter whose name was mentioned, they were all favorites. Poor Tot was great and we laughed at her "nervous breakdown." I had missed that the man she married was the Fowler chicken guy who gave Bobby his job and was glad to get that piece filled in and the "poor" removed from Tot.

We adored Macky and Norma, who in spite of asking Macky to shoot if she ever became her mother, did become her mother. And how can you not laugh at a woman examining herself in the mirror in her panties and bra, asks her husband if her body makes her look fat. We even laughed when the boat blew up. Cheryl roared when she recalled that it was perceived as a comet falling from the sky.

As for the title, Mary said she thought that many were characters were "standing in the rainbow" but didn't know it when they were there, including Bobby and Hamm. Bobby recovered his direction and Hamm "went over to the dark side," as Carolyn said and never seemed to realize it.

We loved the role of women's influence that Flagg inserted, starting with Mother Smith's participation in the suffragette movement, to Betty Raye running for governor and Dorothy's mention of her support on the radio. The support started as a trickle but turned the tide.

Several mentioned that they had either reread Welcome to the World Baby Girl or plan to as well as the sequel with Normal and Macky, I Still Dream about You. After the disappointment of reading those panned reviews this morning, I have to say that I am a fan, not a critic of Fannie Flagg and I was happy to be in good company today.