What could be a better end-of-summer read than a romp with Fannie Flagg? The author of six other books, including the best-selling Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Flagg has once again come up with an upbeat, on-the-nose novel to make you laugh out loud, or at least smile as you read one of her juicy descriptions of the populace of Elmwood Springs, Missouri.
Flagg’s ability to create three-dimensional characters where lesser writers offer only stereotypes of Southerners is like balm on the wounds for those of us who live below the Mason-Dixon Line. One hopes that her books will go a long way to dispelling the myths and perceptions that portray all Southerners as thinking alike, if indeed they’re portrayed as thinking at all.
Certainly Mrs. Elner Shimfissle, the central character of this novel, is an amazing creation. She’s an elderly lady, although she’s not quite sure just how elderly, since her vain older sister long ago hid the family Bible in an effort to disguise her own age. Elner has no such qualms: she is who she is.
And who she is, is a sensible, strong, loving person who is still a vibrant member of her community. Rarely has old age been depicted with such vigor and respect, and thank you, Ms. Flagg.
The story begins as Elner is up on a ladder, picking figs from the tree in her front yard. An encounter with a nest of angry wasps causes a precipitous fall that sets the action skewing off in a dozen directions (at least a dozen!).
At the news of the accident, Elner’s high-strung niece, Norma, promptly experiences yet another anxiety attack, and her steady, sensible husband Macky must deal, not just with Elner and the ambulance, but also with Norma’s hysteria. It is hard not to fall quite solidly in love with the sensible and sensitive Macky.
As events unfold, we learn that the entire town seems to adore Elner Shimfissle, and why they do. Among other townspeople, we meet Tot, the local hairdresser, and the born-again Verbena at the dry cleaners, and Neva, owner of the funeral home, and Luther Griggs, a truck driver and former juvenile delinquent rescued by Elner. The news of Elner’s mishap becomes a classic look at the way bad news spreads like the proverbial wildfire in a small town, with the reporter for the local paper struggling to catch up with the story.
It would be wicked to spoil the plot surprises and twists of this little book. You’ll just have to read it for yourself, and may it bring you as much delight as it brought to this reviewer.
I'm Too Young To Be Seventy And Other Delusions
by Judith Viorst, ©2005
Published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster
Judith Viorst’s poetry and children’s books are probably well-known to most readers of Senior Women Web. Her investigations and explications of what it’s like to be a modern woman have delighted and entertained us for many years. As a young mother, she gave us the delightful “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” along with many other heart-warming volumes that spoke not just to our children, but to us, their mothers.
Witty, articulate, and a proponent of the last-line zinger, reading Viorst is like having a conversation with a big sister, or perhaps a close friend. She knows when to be tender and how to keep sentiment from veering into sentimentality, and she supplies the kind of good laughter that finds you shaking your head in agreement, as in a poem entitled On Not Being a Good Sport About the Fact That I’m Going to Die One of These Days:
Unlike the seasons, no springtime will follow my winter.
Unlike a clock, my twelve midnight won’t tick-tock toward one.
The wind’s at my back and it’s turning me into a sprinter,
Rushing along on a journey that’s soon to be done.
Unlike a book, I can’t start again from the beginning.
Unlike a video movie, I cannot re-wind.
The ice that is under my feet keeps on thinning and thinning.
Do I mind? Do I mind? You bet your sweet ass I mind.
That’s my kind of woman!