A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg (2004)

A Redbird ChristmasReliable Southern fiction writer Fannie Flagg won me over on the second page as she introduced Oswald T. Campbell, a 52-year-old orphan who visits the doctor to discover he has months to live. In filling out the damn forms the doctor’s receptionist thrusts at him, he comes to a space asking him to list his complaints. He doesn’t hesitate: “The Cubs need a new second baseman.” Instead Oswald is told to abandon Chicago and its wintry weather. The good doc even fishes out a faded brochure for an inexpensive resort in Lost River, Alabama. Turns out the place burned down in 1911, but Oswald is lucky and connects with a helpful resident who picks up the phone at the community centre. She takes his number and as promised, calls back with an offer Oswald can’t refuse – a $50/week room in Betty Kitchen’s home, including meals. (This price point, plus references to Betty’s past as a member of the Women’s Army Corps, places the setting in the 1980s, which is why I’m categorizing this as historical fiction.) Alone in the world with only a meagre disability pension to live on, Oswald figures what the heck, tosses or gives away what little he owns, packs up his bag and hops a train to Mobile, the closest stop to Lost River, where the skies are blue and the air is warm, strange birds fill the air, and the little town is peopled with quirky, flawed but good-hearted characters who welcome the orphan without question. Flagg, best known for (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, delivers a solid story with humour and an appreciation of small-town life. For instance, Oswald is a recovering alcoholic, but doesn’t share this personal news until he finds himself needing an AA meeting. He asks Butch, who nods knowingly and lets him know where and when. But this AA meeting is of Alabama’s accordion players …. an amusing misunderstanding that shows up again later in the novel. No words wasted here! This novella (under 200 pages) overs a full year in the little community. It will get you into the mood for baking, and while Flagg provides some recipes for the yummy delights in the novel, I’m not tempted. They are a bit too true to the era and age of the characters – tomato aspic, Christmas Ambrosia and a corn casserole that relies on canned corn and cornbread mixes. This story appears to have a lot of fans. I preferred Flagg’s sharper writing in The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, but I still found it enjoyable. Just take it for what it is – a sweet story that promises a satisfyingly happy ending.
More discussion and reviews of this short novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/199532


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