Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

Reading a book by Fannie Flagg is like sitting at your grandmother's feet waiting for a story that you've heard 100 times, to which you know the ending, but you want to hear it anyway. In general I find the term "heartwarming" rather gaggy - it reminds me of made for TV movie's on the Women's channel. Heartwarming is generally syrupy and meant to make you cry just so you can. However, the word heartwarming, in the most genuine sense of feeling warm and fuzzy when you walk away from whatever you are doing, is a perfect word to describe Flagg's work.

I have read most of Flagg's books. Her most famous Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, became a well-received movie in the '90s. But, the movie does not do her books justice. Flagg has an unfailing sense of humor and appreciation of small town southern life. She manages to describe the idiosyncratic characters in a light and appealing manner without reverting to offensive stereotypes. I can't imagining finding offense with Flagg's descriptions.

The story of A Redbird Christmas revolves around an older man without any family whose health is failing. On a doctor's recommendation he moves from Chicago to the South, basically to die. In the course of his move he meets and befriends most of the members of a very small river town. A young girl and a cardinal (the redbird in the title) bring the town together. So, yes, in short form the story does sound like a made for TV sappy movie. And there are undoubtedly elements of sappiness.

But there is more to the story than teary-eyes or light-heartedness. For the relatively short length of the book, the characters are well-developed. As a reader I felt sincere empathy with the main character. And I loved the quirks and the foibles of the secondary characters. They're all so funny. Moreover, Flagg pokes fun at small town silliness that makes the reader nostalgic for a life that probably rarely exists.

This book is the perfect light holiday read. If you have never read Flagg, you don't know what you're missing. Pick up one of her books NOW! Because of the season, A Redbird Christmas would be a great place to start.

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