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11 January 2009 @ 09:58 am
Book Review: A Redbird Christmas  
A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

Short version: 
Get thee to a bookstore or library and get this book.

Longer version: 
Oswald Campbell has had bad luck his whole life and now at the age of 52 he is divorced, on disability for emphysema, and living a gray existence in a cheap residential hotel in Chicago when one day early in November his doctor tells him that if he doesn't get out of the nasty Chicago weather he won't make it through the Winter. In fact, even if he does move somewhere more healthy he probably only has another year to live.

When Oswald asks for suggestions on where he can go that might be cheap the doctor, an elderly man, remembers a place that his father had sent patients to and digs out an old brochure for the Woodbound Hotel, a "health resort", in Lost River, Alabama. It turns out that the Woodbound burned down decades ago but the helpful people of Lost River find him a place to stay and invite him down anyway.

At this point my glurge detector would be going off if the author wasn't Fannie Flagg but I've read a number of her books now and she always manages to keep things from getting too icky sweet with plenty of offbeat humor so I kept going. Besides, the fictional town of Lost River turns out to be in the very real Baldwin County which is a stone's throw away from where my mother grew up. I've driven through the area many times when we traveled from Florida to visit relatives and tend to the family graves up there.

Flagg does sanitize things quite a bit. There is no mention in all the lyrical descriptions of the area's beauty of the nasty red clay soil that gets in everything during damp weather. The Creole population is never referred to with the crude term that locals use for them but then most of the characters are transplants like Oswald. I'm sure my mother would have found other nits to pick but I think she would have loved the book anyway.

Flagg gets the flavor of life in a small Alabama town down pretty well even though she leaves out the more unpleasant elements. Grimmett's Grocery, one of the main places Oswald ends up hanging out may be fictional but I've been in stores exactly like it. The people and their social activities are pretty dead on.

The Redbird in the title is the pet Cardinal that lives at the store. Jack is a trickster with a wicked sense of humor and an excellent judge of character. He serves as the common link to bring together the wildly different cast of characters.

I saw about half the plot twists coming, some pretty much from the first chapter, but there were enough surprises to keep it fresh and you don't read a book like this for the plot twists, you read it to spend time with the characters. These are some really wonderful characters to spend time with. In addition to Oswald we meet Frances, a widow who had such a good marriage that she's determined to play matchmaker for her spinster sister; Roy, the proprietor of Gimmett's Grocery whose Romeo and Juliet love affair with one of the Creole girls twenty years ago divided the community; Butch "Stick" Mannich aspiring private detective; Mildred, Frances' sister whose fiance left her at the alter and who has never gotten over it; Betty Kitchen, retired Lt. Colonel, Army Nurse Corps, and Oswald's landlady; Claude the mailman, who delivers the mail by boat and is the best fisherman in the state; and little Patsy, whose father abandoned her to live with a poor white trash family back in the woods before getting himself killed.

I think I'm going to need to buy my own copy after I return this one to the library because I know I'm going to want to re-read this one again and again.