Beyond "Fried Green Tomatoes’
The woman who gave life to the Whistle Stop Cafe’s Idgie Threadgoode and Evelyn Couch is back with another novel, “Standing in the Rainbow.”
A prequel to “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!,” “Standing in the Rainbow” centers around life in Elmwood Springs, Mo. Like Flagg’s other books, the story is unfolded piecemeal by multiple narrators. The chapters are bite-sized; it’s easy to plow through it without realizing how fast you’ve gone.
This novel is perhaps a little more nostalgic about the good old days than Flagg’s other books – but that’s understandable, reading about those good old days on the page. Nobody wearing them ever regretted their rose-colored glasses. It’s a comfortable read.
“Standing in the Rainbow” takes its name from those unexpected moments that are given out every once in a while, the ones that announce in plainspeak that the world can be a special place. The specific wording comes from a letter within the book written by one Mrs. Anne Carter, who was driving through a small storm with her family when the weather suddenly cleared and a rainbow seemed just ahead on the road. She wrote:
“..I drove as fast as I could to the spot and when we all got out of the car and looked at each other our skin seemed to glow with irridescent color of pink and blue and green. We could not believe our eyes. We were literally standing in the rainbow. If that is not a miracle, I don’t know what is.”
There are lots of little miracles in Flagg’s book. They wouldn’t make the news, but they matter to the characters and, by extension, the reader.
Elmwood Springs has one block of downtown and everybody knows everybody else’s business – especially with the help of Dorothy Smith, who has a radio show in her living room five days a week on WDOT.
Dedicated to sharing recipes, stories and music over a morning coffee break, The Neighbor Dorothy show is beamed all over the Midwest.
The book is character-driven, and the characters are interesting enough to make that approach work. Bobby, Dorothy’s son, is a rambunctious kid with yearnings of the cowboy life in his heart. Betty Raye is a black sheep in her gospel-singing family because she hates the stage. Beatrice, the Little Blind Songbird, longs for a life of adventure. Jimmy, veteran of WW II and missing half a leg, doesn’t have to work but gladly slings burgers at the Trolley Car Diner.
All these people mean something to Elmwood Springs, though perhaps none more than Dorothy. With her unfailing attention to the truest of details, Flagg could build a novel out of a crumpled paper bag and make it riveting. When she takes on characters she loves – and she must love them, as she’s revisiting several of them – her novel is absorbing. The story begins in the ’40s, and as Flagg announces in large text, the mood of Missouri is hopeful. Perched on the success of the war, it seems things can only get better. Of course better is a subjective term. As time marches on anything can happen – dreams can come true, your hometown can be revealed as a spectacularly small place, friends might move away.
As the book progresses there does seem to be a sadness, or perhaps a bafflement, about the changing times. It is both inevitable and realistic. The characters deal with it as best they can, with the reader rooting them on.
Those who fell in love with Dena Nordstrom in “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!” shouldn’t expect to see her child self in this book. Perhaps Flagg doesn’t want to give any of that story away, or perhaps she’s just too focused on the characters at hand. Either way, Dena is mentioned but once, and that as almost a footnote.
“Standing in the Rainbow” is available at Verbatim Booksellers in Lionshead and The Bookworm of Edwards. It’s a hardback and costs $25.95.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.