Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral (Radish)

Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral 
Kris Radish, 2006
Random House
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553382648

For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request—a traveling funeral—and she wants the most important women in her life as "pallbearers."

From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life. At every stop there’s a surprise encounter and a small miracle waiting, and as they whoop it up across the country, attracting interest wherever they go, they share their deepest secrets—tales of broken hearts and second chances, missed opportunities and new beginnings. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they discover how much is still possible if only they can unravel the secret Annie left them. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—September 18, 1953
Where—Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Education—B.A., Uiversity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Currently—lives in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Nationally syndicated columnist Kris Radish has taken a somewhat winding road to her current status as bestselling feminist novelist, although a strong love of fiction has been in her blood since childhood. "I fell in love with words when I was a little girl (and yes I was short once) and discovered the joy of reading and hanging out with Nancy Drew," she explains on her web site. "By the beginning of eighth grade I had read every book in St. Joseph's Grade School library and knew I was going to be a writer."

Radish did not start out writing the kinds of tales she loved as a girl. She began in the more practical realm of journalism, which lead her to write her first book. Run, Bambi, Run is the true story of Laurie Bombenek, an ex-cop/ex-Playboy bunny who was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Bombenek's fascinating story—which included a daring prison break and her subsequent recapture—was adapted into an equally riveting and critically acclaimed true-crime book by Radish.

Now with her first taste of the publishing world, Radish began work on her second book. The Birth Order Effect was quite different from her debut and miles away from the fiction she would eventually pen. Instead, it is a serious but lively discussion of birth-order and how it affects human psychology and development. Ultimately, The Birth Order Effect would take ten years to see publication, putting Radish's publishing career on hold for that length of time. By the time it finally hit bookstore shelves in 2002, Radish had shifted gears again and would never suffer such a hiatus again. The same year that The Birth Order Effect saw publication, Radish published her breakthrough work of fiction The Elegant Gathering of White Snows, the mysterious, hypnotic story of eight Wisconsin women who embark upon a pilgrimage. As they travel, each woman's story is revealed and the bonds between them strengthen. The Elegant Gathering of White Snows established Radish as an important new voice in feminist fiction and there would be no turning back from there.

Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, the story of a wife and mother who sets upon her own journey toward self-actualization after finding her husband in bed with another woman, followed. Next up was Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral, another road novel in the vein of The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. By this point, Radish had gathered quite a following of devoted readers, all of her novels having found their ways onto bestseller lists throughout the United States. The Sunday List of Dreams, her next effort, should be no different. It is a funny, moving, sometimes ribald tale of a woman who reconnects with her estranged daughter, who now runs a successful sex shop in New York City.

After the somewhat tentative journey toward her current success, Radish promises that she has many more stories to tell. "I write fulltime because I never, not once, let go of the dream I had to do this," she says. "To put all my manic words into sentences and then string the sentences into paragraphs so that they could become chapters and then a book."

Even though Radish is enjoying tremendous success as a novelist, she still writes "two nationally syndicated columns each week—for DBR Media, Inc. and a regionally syndicated column in southeastern Wisconsin for Community Newspapers," as she explains on her web site.

Along with her many literary and journalistic accomplishments, Radish is an accomplished motorcycle rider.

While getting her career in journalism started, Radish worked a huge number of odd jobs. By her own account, she worked as a "professional Girl Scout, waitress, bartender, journalist, bureau chief, columnist, window washer, factory worker, bowling alley attendant and once, honest, I crawled on my belly through a Utah mountain field to harvest night crawlers.

From a 2007 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I've skied with Robert Redford, been shot at while flying over Bosnia, almost drowned in a flash flood in the middle of a desert, worked undercover, interviewed murderers, and covered a national disaster that buried a town.

• When I was a working journalist someone was stalking me for a very long period of time. It was terrifying. To end it, I worked with the local police and I still have tape recordings of this person's voice.

• I answer all my own emails—which often takes hours but I do this because I have such a fabulous group of readers and if they honor me with a note—with their own stories—with something from their heart...well, I have to answer them. I just have to.

• Yoga and biking and I have recently rediscovered my passion for golf—honest—watch for the Kris Radish Open. I swim, and following a severe back injury am living with a ruptured L-5 but am kicking it in the rear end by working out at least five days a week and have recently—well, over the past five months—lost almost 20 pounds.

• I love to hike and often get some great inspiration when I am out hiking with my notebook. I adore the sounds of the outdoors and would live outside if I could -- sleep with the window open year round.

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

The Secret of Shadow Ranch, a Nancy Drew Mystery by Carolyn Keene— I am crying as I write this, and it's not because of menopause (well, maybe). I can actually remember reading this the first of probably 50 times when I was about 11 years old and already dreaming of adventure and writing and living out west—all of which I did, because this book set my heart on fire. Nancy Drew made me believe that I could do anything. I could travel and forge raging rivers and solve mysteries and ride horses into the sunset and because a woman wrote this book and a girl was its star—well, that meant I could do those things too. I keep this book by my computer and every single time I see Nancy on that black horse with the snow-capped mountains in the background on its cover, it makes my heart sing.

The magic of writing and of books spread itself from these pages and set up shop in my heart. One Christmas after I had gotten in trouble because I kept checking out all the Nancy Drew books from the library, I asked for my own set of books for Christmas—a tall order for my family of six. But when I opened my package and saw that I had gotten The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery, I could not stop crying (early menopause!). Nancy and Carolyn helped forge my writer's heart: I am ever and always devoted to both of them. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Radish's latest overwrought book tracks five strangers-turned-soul-mates over the course of the titular funeral, posthumously organized by their friend Annie, who died from ovarian cancer at age 56. A package arrives at Katherine Givens's front door and in it are the ashes of her free-spirited, altruistic childhood friend, along with instructions for a procession that will take Annie's closest friends on a cross country trip from Sonoma, Calif., to Manhattan, sprinkling her remains as they go. Just nine days later, Annie's former university colleague Jill, women's crisis savior Laura, cantankerous neighbor Rebecca and her hospice aide Marie join Katherine on the journey during which they learn their eccentric friend's deepest secrets and share many of their own. Most importantly, these unorthodox urnbearers understand the greatness Annie saw in them and attain the courage to act on it. Windswept melodrama marks Radish's prose (e.g. "these moments were the ones Marie needed to keep the tears and gashes in her own soul from washing her out to sea"), but that will not deter readers who relish the idea of women forming bonds when their mettle is tested and finding power and self-actualization in grief, sharing and love.
Publishers Weekly

Once again, Radish celebrates women's inimitable friendships in an ode to sisterhood that will make her many fans rejoice. —Patty Engelmann

Five women honor their friend's last request with a cross-country adventure. Hypertasker attorney Katherine Givin's life changes forever when she receives a brown paper-wrapped package containing a familiar pair of red high-top sneakers. Into these shoes are packed the ashes of her oldest friend-the remarkable Annie Freeman. Before dying from ovarian cancer, Annie planned her own "traveling funeral" with designated stops for the scattering of her remains. She leaves it to Katherine to assemble her closest friends to act as pallbearers for her last hurrah. Knowing that funerals are for the living, Annie intends for Katherine, Jill, Laura, Rebecca and her saintly hospice nurse Marie (who barely know each other) to take a break from their responsibilities to celebrate life and get to know each other. The trip takes the ladies to the places that mattered most to Annie: the Florida Keys, rural New Mexico, New York City. The book is also something of a metaphysical detective story, as the women learn more about Annie in each location, including the long-held secret identity of the man who fathered her two grown sons. Along the way, the fast friends talk, drink, dance, skinny dip in an icy lake and talk a lot more. They also face their own tragedies and realize that it is never too late to dramatically transform their lives for the better. These women warriors are a funny and engaging bunch, but so similarly wise and articulate that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate them. Filled with uplifting messages of the healing power of both laughter and grief, Radish's novel ultimately sags from too much proselytizing at the expense of the story. A life-affirming depiction of female bonding that's often overblown and tiresome.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral opens with the dilemma of Katherine's disintegrating Bali bra. What does this situation tell us about her personality? In what way does it set the perfect tone? What enables the UPS driver to be so empathetic?

2. What were your first impressions of Annie G. Freeman after reading her obituary? How did you envision her by the end of the novel? What made her such a tireless champion for so many overlooked realms of humanity?

3. What did Annie mean in her instructions when she wrote, "Honor me now and you will honor yourselves"?

4. Did Annie's friendship with Katherine change very much from the time they were teenagers? How did "Katie" respond to Annie's suicide attempt? What were the greatest comforts they gave to each other over the years?

5. When Annie becomes Jill's protoge in Chapter Five, she says that she does not want to be challenged irresponsibly or tricked, and "I don't want to have to stand on my head to get a promotion." She also asks to be mentored and trained. What would it take to make such on-the-job negotiations the norm, full of candor and benevolence?

6. What transformations does Laura make during the traveling funeral? What is the significance of her prophetic feelings? Why was she the ideal lifeline for Annie on the night she was attacked?

7. What do Annie and Rebecca teach each other about control? What was at the heart of their initial struggle to get along as neighbors?

8. In what way is Marie distinct from the other women? What is the source of the special traits that make her a gifted hospice worker? What was the effect of her intangible presence on the trip, by cell phone and memory?

9. What do all of Annie's friends have in common? How does the theme of rescue and healing play out in their traveling funeral? What variations did you notice in the thoughts and responses recorded in the journal?

10. Discuss the men in Annie's life, ranging from John and their sons to the mysterious ex-husband who observes them in Manhattan. How was she able to balance love and independence? How would you characterize her life: bittersweet? Exhilarating?

11. Compare each of the destinations on Annie's itinerary. How do the landscapes form a complete portrait of her? What aspects of her life are captured by the various "guides" encountered on the trip?

12. Do you agree with the airport anthropologist's theory that the death of a loved one can restore other relationships in our lives? How have your friends, family, and community traditionally responded to grief? Why does the traveling funeral resonate with so many strangers near the end of their journey?

13. Discuss Balinda's presence. What is the role of spontaneity and improvisation in the traveling funeral? How do Balinda's plans for her mother convey the new perspective rippling throughout the travelers?

14. In Chapter Twenty-eight, Annie's friends express their anger-toward her, toward her death, and over the end of their beautiful time together. What healing comes from this anger?

15. If you were to plan your own traveling funeral, who would your "pallbearers" be? What places would you want them to visit together? What untold chapters of your life would you like them to discover along the way?

16. What common threads does Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral share with Kris Radish's previous novels? What makes each book's circle of friends unique?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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