Ballantine Books, (December 7, 1999),432 pages
Never Ever judge a book by its cover. This is a special one. I consider this book as a farewell gift to me..farewell to my crazy flying days, and a welcome gift to the world of domesticity. So i just thought its just fitting for this to be the first book on the list. I FOUND this book on the plane, on one of my last flights, from Los Angeles to Seoul. Some passenger left it on the magazine rack. On a bookshop I wouldnt even consider giving this a second glance. As I set about doing my ground preparations, I kept on inevitably passing by the magazine rack and the yellow and blue color of the book was quite catchy. Moreover, it looked like a pocketbook pocketbook if you know what I mean. It looked like what housewives would read. And come on, would you really be interested in reading a book with a title like that? “Welcome to the World, BABY GIRL!”?!?!? But, i couldnt resist a fat juicy pocketbook. It was beautifully worn and read that I just HAD to snatch it away and stash it in my layover bag (when no one was looking of course)
From the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (yes its the movie Fried Green Tomatoes which I havent seen), this novel is set back and forth between Elmwood Springs, Missouri and New York. It has such a homey touch to it, especially the characters of Macky and Norma Warren–the husband and wife who are from this mythical (i guess) town of Missouri and whose lives are so mundane, yet so safe and cozy, that EVERYTHING is talked about. Their daily musings with the elderly Aunt Elner is downright hilarious it drove me laughing. They are the supporting characters of Dena Nordstrom aka Baby Girl, this successful newscaster based in New York. Dena is the typical beautiful smart workaholic professional woman of the 70’s who despises provincial living, but somehow fate finds her back to Elmwood Springs.
One of my favorite parts:
Death of a Cricket
When Macky and Norma Warren came in from church, the phone was ringing. Norma picked it up, her purse still hanging on her arm.
“Mrs. Macky Warren?”
“Mrs. Warren, my name is Jonni Hartman and I work with network news public relations and Im calling to let you know that your relative, Dena Nordstrom, is in the hospital here”
Norma did not let her finish, put her hand over the receiver and screamed at her husband. “Macky, I told you not to kill that cricket!! Baby Girl is in the hospital!” she turned back to the phone “Oh my God…whats the matter with her?”
“Mrs. Warren, I dont want to alarm you but–”
“dont tell me she’s been in an accident. Dont tell me she’s been hurt, I cant stand it. Ill go to pieces, here, you have to talk to my husband”
She thrust the phone to Macky as if it were on fire.
Macky took the phone, while Norma waited in the background. “If she’s dead don’t tell me. i cant stand it. I knew something like this was going to happen”
“Norma be quiet. hello this is her husband what’s going on?”
“Mr Warren, this is Joni Hartman and I didnt want to alarm you. I just wanted to call and let you know Dena is in the hospital but OK, in case you might hear something on the news. Im here with her at the Houston, Texas Medical Center and Dr. De Bakey has just examined her and said she had a pretty severe attack of gastroenteritis”
Macky nodded. “I see. Is this considered life threathening?”
Norma wailed again. “Dont say she’s dying!!”
“Oh no Mr Warren. Its just a pretty severe stomachache as far as I can tell. The doctor says all she needs is a little rest”
“If she’s dead–” Norma threw her hands up in the air–“I dont want to know”
Macky said “Ms. Hartman, could you hold on a second?” He put his hand over the receiver. “Norma. she’s not dead. Now be quiet and let me talk to the woman!” Norma covered her mouth with her hands to keep herself quiet. “Miss Hartman, I can be there as soon as I can get a plane out of here”
“Mr Warren, I really dont think thats necessary. I think it would be better to wait and see how long the doctor is going to keep her. She might be released by the time you get here”
“I see. Well, how is she doing right now? Can we talk to her?”
Norma couldnt control herself. “Is she asking for us? Macky, ask her if she wants to talk to us.”
“Mr. Warren, the doctor gave her something and she’s sleeping right now and from what I gather he does not want her disturbed. He put a No Visitors sign on her door. Im not even allowed in”
Macky nodded again. “I see. What about her family? Should we be there when she wakes up?”
Norma gasped and cluthced her purse to her chest. “Mother of God, she’s in a coma, I knew it–”
“Norma she’s fine. Now sit down”
“Mr. Warren, I really dont want you and your wife to worry. She has the best doctor in the country. Michael E. de Bakey.”
Macky was impressed. ” The heart transplant doctor?”
He anticipated Norma’s reaction and caught her just before she started to scream heart transplant. “No Norma, its not her heart, that’s her doctor”
“Her doctor? Her doctor has had a heart transplant?”
“Norma, he’s fine.”
Norma stood up. “Oh I cant stand it Macky. Youre not asking the right questions! Give me the phone. Miss Hartman, this is Norma again. Is this doctor good? Because we have a doctor right here in town that we can get, one that’s in good health.”
Macky shook his head in disbelief and said in a quiet steely voice. “Norma, give me the phone and go sit down”
Reluctantly, she handed it back. “Well, you have to ask about these things”.
“Miss Hartman, we really appreciate your call and I would also appreciate it if you could call us tomorrow and let us know how she’s doing.”
Norma said, “Tomorrow? tell her to call us in an hour; she could be dead by tomorrow”
Macky put the phone down and Norma grabbed for it but missed.
Macky took Norma by the shoulders and led her over to the sofa. “Norma listen to me. She’s in one of the best hospitals in the country and has one of the best doctors and all she has is just a pretty bad stomachache, thats all. The doctor said she has gastroentiritis.”
“Well Ive never heard of it. How did she catch it”?
“I dont know honey.”
“Is it some kind of Texas thing?”
Norma jumped up and went to the phone. “Well Im calling Dr. Clyde and asking him. Macky, get me some vanilla ice cream in a dish, Im a nervous wreck. Look, my hands are shaking like a leaf…I can hardly hear the–Tootie? its Norma Warren, is he there?Well tell him I need to speak to him right away. Yes, it is. Macky, give me two scoops, I’m–Oh, Dr. Clyde…this is Norma and I need to ask you a question. Is there a disease called gastro inter something? Hold on..Macky, gastro what??”
“Enteritis , I think”
“He says entiritis, he thinks. Macky, did that woman say gastroenteritis? Yes, thats it.” She turned away from the phone. “Macky, he says yes, there is, only its a condition, not a disease. No Doctor, we dont have it, its Baby Girl”
Macky came in and handed her a bowl of ice cream and took her purse away from her.
“Thank you honey. No I was talking to my husband. What kind of condition?” She repeated everything she heard in a loud voice. “Its an inflammation of the stomach lining..uh…caused by too much acid. Did you hear that Macky? She cant die of it, can she? Ahh he says no, he doesnt think so. Well, thank heavens for that. I was…oj…OK, yes in that case you better get on back. Thank you Doctor.” She hung up.
“See, she’s not going to die.” Macky said.”Now, dont you feel better”
An hour later, she picked up the phone and dialed Aunt Elner while Macky made himself a ham and cheese sandwich.
“Aunt Elner, were you taking a nap? Its Norma. Put on your hearing aid honey. Can you hear me? Well…now that we know its not life threatening, the tale can be told. Are you sitting down? Well, go sit down. Are you seated? I dont want you falling out with a stroke. Well, the whole thing started last night at around 10:30. We had been in bed for an hour when we heard a cricket in the living room and Macky got up without his glasses and stepped on it and killed it! I KNOW its bad luck to kill a cricket, that’s probably the reason why Baby Girl wound up in the hospital the first place!!”
Keep in mind that the Warrens and Aunt Elner are just the closest thing Dena Nordstrom has to a family. The conversations were so that it has that innocent and genuine concern of an aunt or parent that one would like to have. The chapters go alternately from New York(Dena and the corporate world) to Missouri (mostly again conversations between the Warrens and Aunt Elner.) No complicated plots or twists here. Its just plain good old story telling that strikes homebase especially to readers who have been so preoccupied with work and dont want to go back home. (eherm erherm)…
Mostly Ive been looking forward to the “countryside conversations” in Missouri, and Neighbor Dorothy’s programs (flashback in the 40’s)…this made me realize that hey, maybe deep down I am a domestic goddess.
Another conversation that I find endearingly charming:
Norma said, ‘I read that ninety-nine percent of criminals have tattoos; did you know that Macky?’
‘Well they do. Show me a tattoo and ill show you a criminal!’
‘Ill be sure and tell the Reverend Dockrill that. He’s got one’
Norma was shocked. ‘The presbyterian preacher?’
‘On his arm’
‘What does it say?’
‘I dont remember’
‘Youre making that up. He does NOT have a tattoo’
‘He does. Do we have any more butter?’
Norma got up and went to the kitchen. ‘Macky Warren, you are too making that up. Just to irritate me’
Macky laughed and looked at Aunt Elner. ‘Im not. He does’
Norma said, ‘When did you see it’?
‘Last summer when we were building the firehouse. He had his shirt off’
‘Oh i dont believe it. Ive never heard of a Presbyterian preacher with a tattoo on his arm. You are making that up’
‘Norma, im not making it up. I dont care one way or the other if he has a Marilyn Monroe tattooed on his behind but im telling you he does–‘
‘Are you going to sit there and tell me tht Reverend John Dockrill has a picture of Marilyn Monroe tattooed on his behind?”
‘I said i wouldnt care if he did. Im sorry now that i even mentioned it’
Norma glanced at him with suspicion. ‘Which arm’?
‘Oh i dont remember. what difference does it make?’
‘Well was it big or little’?
‘No, his tattoo’
‘I dont remember’
‘Macky, you are the most unobservant person Ive ever met. You are the only person in the entire world that could look at a tattoo on a preacher and not even pay attention to what it was.’
Aunt Elner piped in, “Maybe it was a religious tattoo. Was it a cross or the Last Supper’?
‘Aunt Elner, I really don’t remember. I wasnt paying all that much attention.’
‘I’ll tell you why he can’t remember, Aunt Elner, because he nevr saw it thats why! You better be careful Macky, or I’ll tell John Dockrill that you said he had a tattoo.’
‘I know Betsy Dockrill and she would never marry a man with a tattoo’
‘Whatever you say Norma’
‘Macky, Ill bet you a month’s worth of backrubs that John Dockrill does not have a tattoo.’
‘You dont want to do that because you’ll lose.’
‘See, Aunt Elner, he wont bet. I told you he’s making the whole thing up. He knows I can call Betsy right now and ask–‘
‘Go on’ said Macky
‘Dont dare me; you know i’ll do it.’
‘Do what you want. You want to give me a whole month’s worth of backrubs, who am i to say no?’
Norma looked at Aunt Elner. ‘Should I call her?’
‘Well i wish you would. Now youve got me curious’
‘All right, I will’ Norma stood up. ‘Here i go…im going…’
She waited but Macky looked at her and kept on eating. She walked into the kitchen and called out: ‘Last chance, Macky, I have the phone in my hand…here I go…Im dialing’
After a moment of silence, they heard Norma say’ Hello, Betsy…its Norma; how are you? Good. How’s your mother? Good. Oh nothing. We were just sitting here, having a little bite to eat. Aunt Elner is here…Macaroni cheese and ham, baked apple, English peas. Well I knmow this is a perfectly silly question to ask–and you are going to think Im crazy–but I was reading an article about tattoos…tattoos..yes…and well, John doesnt have a tattoo, does he? Oh. Well, thats what I thought. Oh, no reason, we were just wondering if we knew anyone that had one. Uh-huh. Well, Ill let you run on. I know youre busy. Ill see you Thursday. You take care now.”
Norma came back to the table and sat down and continued eating.
Macky waited. Then he said ‘Well?’
Norma did not look at him. ‘Well what?’
Aunt Elner said, ‘Does he have a tatto or not?’
Norma reached across and picked up a dinner roll.
‘Macky Warren, I could kill you’
‘I made a complete fool out of myself and its all your fault’
‘The one time you are not making something up…and you let me go in there and make a complete fool of myself. You knew darn well that he had a tattoo!’
‘I told you he had one. Didnt I Aunt Elner?’
‘Yes he said he did’
‘You should have stopped me. You deliberately let me go in there and–“
Aunt Elner said’ Whats it a tattoo of, is it a lamb?’
‘Well what is it?’
‘Its a heart with a name inside’
‘what does it say?’
‘It says “Wanda”‘
Aunt Elner was taken aback. “Wanda…i thought you said his wife’s name was Betsy…”
Norma glared at Macky. ‘Macky I could kill you’
‘I wonder who Wanda is?’ Aunt Elner mused. ‘Maybe his mother’s name was Wanda’
Macky chuckled. ‘No Aunt Elnder, I dont think that was his mother’s name’
‘Maybe its from the Bible?’
Norma said ‘No Aunt Elner I dont think there’s anybody in the Bible named Wanda’
“She wasnt one of the apostle’s wives, was she?
‘No honey.’ Norma frowned at Macky. “ill tell you one thing. you can thank your lucky stars you didnt have some woman;’s name tattoed on you when i married you’
You didnt have that Annettte girls’s name written on you or I would have divorced you oion the first day’
‘Oh for God’s sake”
Aunt Elner asked, “whos Annette?’
‘nobody’ Macky said.
‘Dont let him fool you Aunt Elner’
‘I had this one date with this girl, and shes turned into some big romance’
Norma got up and started cleaning the plates. ‘I happen to know you had two dates’
‘How do you know?’
” I just know thats all. Never mind how I know’ Norma headed for the kitchen to get the rice pudding out of the refrigerator.
Macky winked at Aunt Elner’I tell you what…tomorrow Ill go down and get your name tattooed right across my chest, OK?’
Norma was squirting Reddi Wip on the pudding and called out ‘Dont you dare. thats all I need is for you to get yourself tattoed all up. Next thing you’d run off and join some motorcycle gang and be robbing banks. Thats all I need is to be married to some criminal!’
Macky looked at Aunt Elner. ‘The woman is insane’
‘Yes, but she sure makes a good rice pudding’
Ive been so tempted to turn these conversations into a one act playscript!
If you are one who loves surprising twists and unexpected endings, then dont even bother. The plot is very predictable, but thats not the selling point of the novel. I believe its the idyllic provincial charm, carried by the conversations, and by the radio program of Neighbor Dorothy. When she desrcribes her recipes, I can almost smell and taste it!
I read up a little about the author, Fannie Flagg, and in an interview she mentioned that she has spelling problems and it took a while for her book to be edited. This is not an issue for the novel, no literary fancy play of words or narration. Downside of the novel, Id have to say I wasnt very much entertained with Gerald’s efforts (Dena’s die hard suitor)..it seemed to serve as a comic relief but also took away the “reality factor’ into it…It does have its ‘not so trivial’ points also, such as how a person’s color affects his entire life…but over all, this is Simply a downright comfy read!