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March 29, 2016

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl

Welcome to the WorldWelcome to the World, Baby Girl

By: Fannie Flagg

If you’re like me, when you enjoy a good book by a particular author, you explore their other writings in hopes of being similarly entertained again. This is the strategy that lead me to Fannie Flagg’s Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! I had thoroughly enjoyed her 2013 novel, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion and an earlier offering, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Author Fannie Flagg, born Patricia Neal, is perhaps best known as an actor and comedienne, having appeared in many television shows during the 60s & 70s before focusing on movies and the stage in the following decade. Flagg’s first novel was published in 1981. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, it is not surprising that Flagg’s novels are primarily set in the south.

The protagonist in this tale is a young woman named Dena Nordstrom, an up-and-coming television journalist, who is determined to make a name for herself in a competitive, cut-throat business. She is beautiful, independent, driven, and troubled by a mysterious past that she sublimates to the detriment of her own mental and physical health. Only when forced to enter psychoanalysis after a medical crisis, does she begin to unravel the threads that lead to surprising revelations and self-discovery.

The setting shifts periodically from Elmwood Springs, a small town in Missouri, to New York City. Similarly, the time period jumps from 1948 to 1973 with stops in between, as we meet the people and events that have impacted Dena’s life and development. Dominant and delightfully quirky women are rampant among her extended family and friends. The personalities encountered in her work life represent both the dregs and the cream of humanity, with a love interest or two thrown in for good measure. One caution: the reader must be alert to time and place in order to keep his/her bearings as the story – and the secrets – are revealed.

I found myself drawn to the inhabitants of Elmwood Springs, valuing their unpretentiousness and the way they cared for and accepted one another. Dena was an enigma, highly capable, calculating, and confident on the surface but irritatingly repressed and reserved inside. She is portrayed as a decisive career woman but often seems to regress to a child-like uncertainty when pressed to explore her own history or make difficult choices. I suppose this dichotomy exists in us all, making her a sympathetic character with whom the reader can identify.

Though dark issues are explored, among them racism, yellow journalism, blackmail, and alcoholism, the story is told in a warm and colloquial way with a touch of humor to lighten the mood. I like a happy ending and was not disappointed here. Our heroine manages to navigate self-destructive behaviors that threaten her survival. She finds the courage to make a happy life for herself and to share it with a worthy partner. Upon finishing the book, I was sorry to bid adieu to my new friends in Elmwood Springs. Happily, Flagg’s next novel, Standing in the Rainbow, returns to this locale with a prequel that focuses on an earlier era with many of the same cast of characters!

Review By: Pam Lamberger