WVFC Holiday Gift List, Anniversary Edition

December 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Books

Last year, we were thrilled to inaugurate our annual celebration of WVFC writers, which compiled all the books and authors we’d covered into an easy-to-use holiday shopping list— one for poetry and one for prose. This year, we’re doing the same. Some of the authors, like Gail Sheehy and Dominique Browning, we’ve gotten to know well in interviews and commentaries; others’ books have inspired reviews here for multiple reasons. Some are light ovelsn, some sober histories, some feminist manifestos. And this time, in honor of WVFC’s 5th anniversary, we’re also throwing in a few blasts from the past — new books by authors we featured from 2006-2008. The total would have made for lists far too long to post here, but we hope you explore our Books archives to find more writers we’ve reviewed, interviewed, and whose awards we’ve celebrated over the past five years.

Pat Benatar, Between a Heart and a Rock Place

Lloyd Boston, The Style Checklist
Dominique Browning’s Slow Love is actually dedicated to WVFC’s Dr. Pat Allen. The year we launched, Dr. Allen also tipped us off to Amy Bloom’s talent, long before Bloom’s new novel Where the God of Love Hangs Out.

Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Judy Collins, Over the Rainbow

Roz Chast‘s newest book is the children’s collection Too Busy Marco.

Edwidge Danticat opened our 2010 with news from Haiti; her new book is Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.
Fannie Flagg, I Still Dream About You

John Fowles. The Tree

Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule
Nicole Hollander, The Sylvia Chronicles

Virginia Ironside, You’re Old, I’m Old . . . Get Used to It!: Twenty Reasons Why Growing Old Is Great In 2007, we applauded Ironside’s No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year. In the new book–Ironside’s first published in the U.S.–the author “is determined to convince people that getting old is not so bad–even for a Baby Boomer who interviewed the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix early in her career.

Judith Jones, The Pleasure of Cooking for One

Maira Kalman, And the Pursuit of Happiness
Mary Karr, Lit.
We reviewed Laura Lippman’s Life Sentences; her new book, I’d Know You Anywhere, also works the terrain Lippman has been exploring in her Memory Project.

Tara Parker-Pope, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage
Jennifer Pozner, Reality Bites Back: The Cruel Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV

Judy Richardson and Dorothy Zellner, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
Judy Shepard, The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed

Cathleen Schine, The Three Weissmans of Westport

Gail Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Traister, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women

Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot
Lis Wiehl and April Henry, Hand of Fate: A Triple Threat Novel. In 2007, we cheered attorney Wiehl’s manifesto The 51% Minority: How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It, Since then, Wiehl has teamed up with coauthor Henry for the best-selling Triple Threat series of legal thrillers. Publishers Weekly wrote of this latest installment in the series, out just in time for holiday sales: “Readers will identify with these very real women.”

Let us know what books you think we should add to our lists. And check back on Friday for the Poetry Edition, to scoop up all our Voices in Verse.

Book Review: Fannie Flagg’s “I Still Dream About You”

November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Books, Humor

The women of Red Mountain Realty are a close-knit group, weathering the challenges of late midlife, not to mention a sagging real estate market. Maggie Fortenberry was a beauty queen in her youth. Lately, she’s been wondering whether being crowned Miss Alabama was the high point of her life. Never married, she’s feeling lonely and questioning what good posture, dancing, and knowing all the ways to fold a napkin really got her.

Brenda is miserably struggling with her weight (and breaking her diet by sneaking ice cream), and plotting to run for mayor of Birmingham. Ethel, the office manager who watches the news so she’ll know what to complain about, wears purple head to toe, even dyeing her hair to match. Babs Bingington is a conniving rival real estate agent, plotting to put the ladies of Red Mountain out of business.

In this ensemble cast, only Babs, who seems like some kind of demented evil Barbie doll, feels like a cipher. Hazel Whisenknott, the woman who founded the agency, could almost be a caricature. At 3 foot 4, she was a woman of boundless energy, drive and heart. She had enough faith in Maggie, Brenda, and Ethel to bring them together to start the agency, and each woman still values Hazel as a source of quiet support and strength.

Hazel’s parts of the story are told in flashbacks and in fond memories, as Maggie, Brenda and Ethel continue to mourn her death five years later. Even though some of Hazel’s acts of kindness verge on the improbably miraculous (a chocolate Easter egg stuffed with much-needed money, for instance), most of her feats relied on sheer persistence and force of personality. After Babs floods one of Maggie’s show houses to sabotage it, for instance, Hazel works the phones, calling in favors to erase the damage in record time.

The city of Birmingham emerges as a character in its own right. The cadences of Flagg’s descriptions and the rhythms of her characters’ banter immerse the novel in a sense of the South.

As the story moves through each of the characters’ perspectives, the women of Red Mountain emerge, fleshed out with nuance, humor, and grace. Yes, they each have some private struggle, and sad moments of doubt and introspection. But even in these darker moments, there are odd and eccentric touches of whimsy: Ethel’s purple hair and caustic jibes at Babs, Brenda stuffing a forbidden pint of ice cream in her purse, where it melts over everything. As you read, you’ll find yourself smiling unexpectedly, or laughing right in the middle of a wistful sigh.

Call it quintessential Southern writing if you like, this balance between pathos and humor. Tempering life’s sorrows with a cast of funny, eccentric characters is something Fannie Flagg does exceptionally well. In fact, I Still Dream About You (Random House, $26) has a lot in common with Flagg’s most famous novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Both of them set characters against life’s ordinary sorrows, armed with exuberance and eccentricities that will make readers laugh out loud. Both novels, so atmospherically Southern, have a timeless quality. Even though I Still Dream About You deals so much with the 21st-century real estate market, the characters of the women read as deeply ladylike, with a timeless grace. To be sure, some of the odd touches of plot and character ask for a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief. But the characters are so likable and honestly blended that you’ll find yourself forgiving even the more outlandishly magical plot twists.