I Still Dream About You (Flagg)

I Still Dream About You
Fannie Flagg, 2010
Random House
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400065936


Summary 
The beloved Fannie Flagg is back and at her irresistible and hilarious best in I Still Dream About You, a comic mystery romp through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, past, present, and future.

Meet Maggie Fortenberry, a still beautiful former Miss Alabama. To others, Maggie’s life seems practically perfect—she’s lovely, charming, and a successful real estate agent at Red Mountain Realty. Still, Maggie can’t help but wonder how she wound up in her present condition. She had been on her hopeful way to becoming Miss America and realizing her childhood dream of someday living in one of the elegant old homes on top of Red Mountain, with the adoring husband and the 2.5 children, but then something unexpected happened and changed everything.

Maggie graduated at the top of her class at charm school, can fold a napkin in more than forty-eight different ways, and can enter and exit a car gracefully, but all the finesse in the world cannot help her now. Since the legendary real estate dynamo Hazel Whisenknott, beloved founder of Red Mountain Realty, died five years ago, business has gone from bad to worse—and the future isn’t looking much better. But just when things seem completely hopeless, Maggie suddenly comes up with the perfect plan to solve it all.

As Maggie prepares to put her plan into action, we meet the cast of high-spirited characters around her. To Brenda Peoples, Maggie’s best friend and real estate partner, Maggie’s life seems easy as pie. Slender Maggie doesn’t have to worry about her figure, or about her Weight Watchers sponsor catching her at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. And Ethel Clipp, Red Mountain’s ancient and grumpy office manager with the bright purple hair, thinks the world of Maggie but has absolutely nothing nice to say about their rival Babs “The Beast of Birmingham” Bingington, the unscrupulous estate agent who hates Maggie and is determined to put her out of business.

Maggie has heartbreaking secrets in her past, but through a strange turn of events, she soon discovers, quite by accident, that everybody, it seems—dead or alive—has at least one little secret.

I Still Dream About You is a wonderful novel that is equal parts Southern charm, murder mystery, and that perfect combination of comedy and old-fashioned wisdom that can be served up only by America’s own remarkable Fannie Flagg. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Real Name—Patricia Neal
Birth—September 21, 1944
Where—Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Education—University of Alabama
Currently—lives in Montecito, California


Fannie Flagg began writing and producing television specials at age nineteen and went on to distinguish herself as an actress and writer in television, films, and the theater. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which was produced by Universal Pictures as Fried Green Tomatoes), Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, Standing in the Rainbow, and A Redbird Christmas. Flagg’s script for Fried Green Tomatoes was nominated for both the Academy and Writers Guild of America awards and won the highly regarded Scripters Award. Flagg lives in California and in Alabama.

Before her career as a novelist, Flagg was known principally for her on-screen television and film work. She was second banana to Allen Funt on the long-running Candid Camera, perhaps the trailblazer for the current crop of so-called reality television. (Her favorite segment, she told Entertainment Weekly in 1992, was driving a car through the wall of a drive-thru bank.) She appeared as the school nurse in the 1978 film version of Grease, and on Broadway in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And she was a staple of the Match Game television game shows in the '70s.

Quite early on in her writing career, Fannie Flagg stumbled onto the holy grail of secrets in the publishing world: what editors are actually good for.

Attending the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference in 1978 to see her idol, Eudora Welty, Flagg won first prize in the writing contest for a short story told from the perspective of a 11-year-old girl, spelling mistakes and all—a literary device that she figured was ingenious because it disguised her own pitiful spelling, later determined to be an outgrowth of dyslexia. But when a Harper & Row editor approached her about expanding the story into a full-length novel, she realized the jig was up. In 1994 she told the New York Times:

I just burst into tears and said, "I can't write a novel. I can't spell. I can't diagram a sentence." He took my hand and said the most wonderful thing I've ever heard. He said, "Oh, honey, what do you think editors are for?"

Writing
And so Fannie Flagg—television personality, Broadway star, film actress and six-time Miss Alabama contestant—became a novelist, delving into the Southern-fried, small-town fiction of the sort populated by colorful characters with homespun, no-nonsense observations. Characters that are known to say things like, "That catfish was so big the photograph alone weighed 40 pounds."

Her first novel, an expanded take on that prize-winning short story, was Coming Attractions: A Wonderful Novel, the story of a spunky yet hapless girl growing up in the South, helping her alcoholic father run the local bijou. But it was with her second novel where it all came together. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe—a novel, for all its light humor, that infuses its story with serious threads on racism, feminism, spousal abuse and hints at Sapphic love -- follows two pairs of women: a couple running a hometown café in the Depression-era South and an elderly nursing home resident in the late 1980s who strikes up an impromptu friendship with a middle-aged housewife unhappy with her life.

The result was not only a smash novel, but a hit movie as well, one that garnered Flagg an Academy Award nomination for adapting the screenplay. She won praise from the likes of Erma Bombeck, Harper Lee and idol Eudora Welty, and the Los Angeles Times critic compared it to The Last Picture Show. The New York Times called it, simply, "a real novel and a good one."

As a writer, though, this Birmingham, Alabama native found her voice as a chronicler of Southern Americana and life in its self-contained hamlets. "Fannie Flagg is the most shamelessly sentimental writer in America," The Christian Science Monitor wrote in a 1998 review of her third novel. "She's also the most entertaining. You'd have to be a stone to read Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! without laughing and crying. The cliches in this novel are deep-fat fried: not particularly nutritious, but entirely delicious."

The New York Times, also reviewing Baby Girl, took note of the spinning-yarns-on-the-front-porch quality to her work: "Even when she prattles—and she prattles a great deal during this book—you are always aware that a star is at work. She has that gift that certain people from the theater have, of never boring the audience. She keeps it simple, she keeps it bright, she keeps it moving right along—and, most of all, she keeps it beloved."

But, lest she be pegged as simply a champion of the good ol’ days, it's worth noting that her writing can be something of a clarion call for social change. In Fried Green Tomatoes, Flagg comments not only on the racial divisions of the South but also on the minimization of women in both the 1930s and contemporary life. Just as Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison commit to a life together—without menfolk—in the Depression-era days of Whistle Stop, Alabama, middle-aged Evelyn Couch in modern-day Birmingham discovers the joys of working outside the home and defining her life outside meeting the every whim of her husband.

On top of her writing, Flagg has also stumped for the Equal Rights Amendment.

I think it's time that women have to stand up and say we do not want to be seen in a demeaning manner," Flagg told a Premiere magazine reporter in an interview about the film adaptation of Fried Green Tomatoes.

Extras
• Flagg approximated the length of her first novel by weight. Her editor told her a novel should be around 400 pages. "So I weighed 400 pages and it came to two pounds and something," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1987." I wrote until I had two pounds and something, and, as it happened, the novel was just about done."

• She landed the Candid Camera gig while a writer at a New York comedy club. When one of the performers couldn't go on, Flagg acted as understudy, and the show's host, Allen Funt, was in the audience.

• Flagg went undiagnosed for years as a dyslexic until a viewer casually mentioned it to her in a fan letter. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)



 Book Reviews 
For a comic mystery romp, Fannie Flagg's latest book, I Still Dream About You, has a lot of talk about suicide, incest, cross-dressing and vicious backstabbing. But hey, who says those are bad things? Flagg, the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and a half-dozen other popular books, has filled this charming new novel with quirky characters, led by a former Miss Alabama.
Sarah Pekkanen - Washington Post


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.
Publishers Weekly



Discussion Questions
1. Maggie’s life hasn’t turned out the way she’d hoped, and at the beginning of the book she makes her big decision to fix it once and for all. Why do you think she feels this way, and what makes her decide that the time has come to put her plan into action?  Have you ever felt the way Maggie does, and if so, what did you do to solve it?
 
2. Maggie’s decision comes at the end of a perfectly ordinary day, with no bells and whistles or dramatic events. In your opinion, is this typical of the way big changes happen in real life? Can you think of examples in your own life where a major event happened on an otherwise ordinary-feeling day?
 
3. What are Maggie’s “16 perfectly good reasons to jump in the river”?  If you were making the list, what would you put in your “pros” and “cons” columns?
 
4. When Charles proposed to Maggie years before, she turned him down. Why did she do this? Do you think she made the right decision, given the circumstances at the time? In hindsight, should she have made a different decision? What would you have done?
 
5. Both Brenda and Maggie each think that the other’s life is easier and happier. Brenda is envious of Maggie’s good looks and constant cheerfulness and charm, while Maggie wishes she had Brenda’s practicality and the comfort of her big family. Why do you think they believe this—is the grass simply always greener on the other side of the fence? If you had to choose between Brenda’s and Maggie’s, which kind of life would you prefer?
 
6. Edwina Crocker-Sperry spent her life protecting a huge secret, one that both gave her tremendous freedom and tightly curtailed her world. What do you think that life was like for her? Would you like to have been Edwina, or to have lived a life like hers?  What do you think would have happened if her secret had been discovered?
 
7. Everyone who meets Hazel Whisenknott falls in love with her, with her energy and enthusiasm and optimism. Even five years after she is gone, she still brightens the lives of all her friends and employees. Do you know anyone like Hazel?
 
8. Hazel refused to let anything get in the way of her dreams. What lessons could we all learn from Hazel’s story? What about Maggie’s?
 
9. At one point, Maggie meets a schoolmate who is surprised to hear that Maggie never became Miss America—the friend has been bragging about knowing Miss America for years. When Maggie tells her she was just the second runner-up, she laughs, “Honey, it’s like the Oscars; after so many years, nobody ever remembers who won, just who was nominated.” How does this change Maggie’s perspective? Do you think the observation is true, or not? Can you think of examples?
 
10. One effect of Maggie’s decision, she realizes, is that she no longer has to worry about the consequences of her actions. She stops going to the gym and watching the news, and starts having a lot more fun. She even speaks her mind to Babs Bingington! If you didn’t have to worry about the long-term consequences of your actions, what would you do differently? Is there anything on your list you might want to do anyway? Is there anything you might want to give up, despite the consequences?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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