In one word: Dated
Like a good southern woman, I have a fondness for Fannie Flagg. I was excited to realize there are a few of her books that I’ve never read, so I grabbed this one from the library. However, I didn’t realize this was the fourth in a series, and I am such a completist that I almost needed a lie-down and smelling salts. Once I got ahold of myself, I realized that I had read two of the other books, and this one is a deep dive into the history of Elmwood Springs and thus not a true sequel to its modern predecessors. Disaster averted!
I was initially charmed by this story of the people of Elmwood Springs, founded in 1880 by Swedish immigrant Lordor Nordstorm; we watch as he puts down roots and a community takes shape. We follow this town and its citizens over the next century as they live and die and progress marches on. This book started strong but my interest waned as the book went on (and on. and on). As the chapters ticked by, Flagg took me from a charming and quaint look at yesteryear to an overblown and boring meader that felt like it took the hundred years that the book covered to get through.
There is for the most part zero conflict, it’s pretty much all mundane happenings and happy endings. Even after death, the happy endings continue. The townspeople discover that the afterlife allows them to visit with their dead neighbors and, though they can’t interact with them, watch the happenings of their living relatives from the vantage point of the local cemetery.
Overall, good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. The most shocking thing to transpire (and we are going into spoiler territory here) is that the town’s most beloved citizen, the deaf daughter of the most beloved and wealthiest couple, dies being pushed down a flight of stairs by her no-good husband. This tragic end came out of nowhere, and was confusing and a thoroughly unsatisfying end for the character, as it was basically the only bad thing to happen to a good person in the town in a century. Other than that, there’s a peeping tom, a town alcoholic, and a bunch of copy/paste of Leave it to Beaver type bliss. As we get into the 21st century there’s a hint of “things just aren’t how they used to be, in the good ol’ days” which just doesn’t sit well with me in the post-pandemic, post-January 6th, post BLM protests world.
Speaking of post-pandemic, bless any author that wrote a book in the past and happened to have action take place in 2020 or 2021. The last chapter of this book was in 2021 and Flagg, you missed a big world happening that would have shaken Elmwood Springs to the core. It was a jarring end to a saga that is better left unread.