Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! is the funny, serious, and compelling new novel by Fannie Flagg, author of the beloved Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (and prize-winning co-writer of the classic movie).
Once again, Flagg's humor and respect and affection for her characters shine forth. Many inhabit small-town or suburban America. But this time, her heroine is urban: a brainy, beautiful, and ambitious rising star of 1970s television. Dena Nordstrom, pride of the network, is a woman whose future is full of promise, her present rich with complications, and her past marked by mystery.
About the Author
Fannie Flagg began writing and producing television specials at age nineteen and went on to distinguish herself as an actress and writer in television, films, and the theater. Her first novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, spent ten weeks on The New York Times paperback bestseller list, and her second novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe , spent thirty-six weeks on the same list. It was produced by Universal Pictures as the feature film Fried Green Tomatoes. Flagg's script was nominated for both the Academy and Writers Guild of America awards, and won the highly regarded Scripters Award. Flagg narrated both novels on audiotape and received a Grammy Award nomination for best spoken word. Flagg lives in Montecito, California.
Date of Birth:September 21, 1944
Place of Birth:Birmingham, Alabama
Education:The University of Alabama
Read an Excerpt
Elmwood Springs, Missouri
In the late forties Elmwood Springs, in southern Missouri, seems more or less like a thousand other small towns scattered across America.
Downtown is only a block long with a Rexall drugstore on one end and the Elmwood Springs Masonic Hall on the other. If you walk from the Masonic Hall to the Rexall, you will go by the Blue Ribbon cleaners, a Cat's Paw shoe repair shop with a pink neon shoe in the window, the Morgan Brothers department store, the bank, and a little alley with stairs on one side of a building leading up to the second floor, where the Dixie Cahill School of Tap and Twirl is located. If it is a Saturday morning you'll hear a lot of heavy tapping and dropping of batons upstairs by the Tappettes, a troop of blue-spangled Elmwood Springs beauties, or at least their parents think so. Past the alley is the Trolley Car diner, where you can get the world's best chili dog and an orange drink for 15 cents. Just beyond the diner is the New Empress movie theater, and on Saturday afternoons you will see a group of kids lined up outside waiting to go in and see a Western, some cartoons, and a chapter in the Buck Rogers weekly serial. Next is the barber shop and then the Rexall on the corner. Walk down on the other side of the street and you'll come to the First Methodist Church and then Nordstrom's Swedish bakery and luncheonette, with the gold star still in the window in honor of their son. Farther on is Miss Alma's Tea Room, Haygood's photographic studio, the Western Union, and the post office, the telephone company, and Victor's florist shop. A narrow set of stairs leads up to Dr. Orr's "painless" dentist's office. Warren and Son hardware is next. The son is eighteen-year-old Macky Warren, who is getting ready to marry his girlfriend, Norma, and is nervous about it. Then comes the A & P and the VFW Hall on the corner.
Elmwood Springs is mostly a neighborhood town, and almost everyone is on speaking terms with Bottle Top, the white cat with a black spot that sleeps in the window of the shoe repair shop. There is one town drunkard, James Whooten, whose long-suffering wife, Tot Whooten, has always been referred to as Poor Tot. Even though she has remarried a tea-totaller and seems fairly happy for a change, most people still call her Poor Tot out of sheer habit.
There is plenty of fresh air and everybody does their own yard work. If you are sick, somebody's son or husband will come over and do it for you. The cemetery is neat, and on Memorial Day, flags are placed on all the veterans' graves by the VFW. There are three churches, Lutheran, Methodist, and Unity, and church suppers and bake sales are well attended. Most everybody in town goes to the high school graduation and to the yearly Dixie Cahill dance and twirl recital. It is basically a typical, middle-class town and in most living rooms you will find at least one or two pairs of bronzed baby shoes and a picture of some child on top of the same brown and white Indian pony as the kid next door. Nobody is rich but despite that fact, Elmwood Springs is a town that likes itself. You can see it in the fresh paint on the houses and in the clean, white curtains in the windows. The streetcar that goes out to Elmwood Lake has just been given a new coat of maroon and cream paint and the wooden seats shellacked to such a high polish they are hard not to slide out of. People are happy. You can see it in the sparkle in the cement in front of the movie theater, in the way the new stoplight blinks at you. Most people are content. You can tell by the well-fed cats and dogs that laze around on the sidewalks all over town and even if you are blind you can hear it in the laughter from the school yards and in the soft thud of the newspaper that hits the porches every afternoon.
But the best way to tell about a town, any town, is to listen deep in the night . . . long after midnight . . . after every screen door has been slammed shut for the last time, every light turned off, every child tucked in. If you listen you will hear how everyone, even the chickens, who are the most nervous creatures on earth, sleep safe and sound through the night.
Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is not perfect by any means but as far as little towns go it is about as near perfect as you can get without having to get downright sentimental about it or making up a bunch of lies.
Reading Group Guide
1. This novel tells of Dena's long journey home. What does home look and sound and smell like to you? Is it a place or a state of mind?
2. "Elmswood Springs is a town that likes itself." Do you agree with this assessment of Dena's hometown? How does Dena's opinion of the town change over the course of the novel?
3. The Smith family talks about being able to stop time. Would you like to have this power? If you could, when would you freeze time in your own life?
4. Aunt Elner would want to be at home with her family and friends if she knew the end of the world was coming. What would you do?
5. What has caused Dena's identity crisis? How does she manage to keep the people in her life fooled about her real condition for so long?
6. Why are people in Dena's life so persistent even though she continually shuts them out? Did you ever lose patience with her?
7. Why does Gerry O'Malley believe in true love? Do you think it exists?
8. Why does Dena sleep through Christmas every year and then lie about it? Many people have very conflicted feelings about the holidays for a whole host of reasons. How do you feel about holidays? Do you ever want to sleep through them?
9. Dena is initially very resistant to therapy. How much do you think therapy helped her in the end? Did this novel challenge or confirm your own opinions about therapy?
10. Dena's therapist tells her: I think you are mistaking a profession for a personal identity." Discuss the meaning of this statment. Does it apply to anyone you know?
11. Ask each person in your reading group to give three answers to the question: who are you? How easy or difficult is this to do? Do you have any answers in common?
12. What was the significance of Dena's recurring dream about the house with the carousel?
13. Dena gets to interview Tennessee Williams, an artist who inspired her. If you could interview a person who has had a major impact on your personal/and or professional development, who would it be? What would you ask them?
14. This novel examines the nature of celebrity in modern America. Why does Dena want to be famous? And why does she eventually reject it? Is celebrity something you would want for yourself?
15. Discuss the negative impact gossip in the media has on various characters in this novel. Where do you think the line should be drawn regarding the private lives of public people?
29. How did your group select this novel and the other books you have read? What are you reading next?
16. Dena's career in television journalism in the 1960s and 1970s parallels the rise of an increasingly invasive and sensationalized brand of news broadcasting. To what degree do you think Dena owes her career to these developments?
17. How are Dena's good looks both a help and a hindrance in her career? Discuss the problems women face in the workplace based on appearance.
18. What was your immediate reaction upon reading about the disappearance of Dena's mother on Christmas in 1959? Did your opinion change upon learning the whole story?
19. Do you think Sookie should have confronted Dena when she first learned about her mother's disappearance? How do you think Dena would have reacted then?
20. How do you think Gene and his family and friends would have responded if Dena's mother had told them the truth? Do you think she was justified in keeping her secret?
21. Discuss the many worlds the Le Guarde children inhabited and how their divided loyalties left them homeless in every sense of the word.
22. Discuss the idea of "one drop of blood" and race relations in the United States. How do you think things have changed, or not, since World War II?
23. Do you think Marguerite meant to do what she did in that bathroom in Vienna? What does Dena think?
24. What do you think Dena's life would have been like if her family had remained intact?
25. Dena is very reluctant to uncover the truth about her mother. Do you think she has right to do so?
26. Secrets helped destroy Dena's mother and uncle. And Dena's secrets almost killed her. What makes the difference for Dena?
27. This novel is filled with characters with distinct and quirky personalities. Who is your favorite? What is your favorite descriptive passage about them in this novel?
28. Did the structure of this novel-shifting back and forth in time and place and character-work for you? Why or why not?
Before the live bn.com chat, Fannie Flagg agreed to answer some of our questions:Q: Dena Nordstrom from Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! is a TV anchorwoman. What are your thoughts on the multiple 24-hour-news stations popping up across the country? Also, what do you think about America's fascination with sensationalist journalism?
A: Dena Nordstrom is really a television interviewer, rather than a hard-news anchorwoman, who got caught up in the beginnings of the tabloid-type television interviews that started becoming popular (I think) after the Kennedy assassination, where most of the country saw it. And most saw Oswald getting shot as it happened. We as a country became the first people in the history of the world to actually see and be a part of history as it happened, rather than reading about it years later. We were part of it. I think the saying "truth is stranger than fiction" is certainly true, and when we watch news stories as they happen, they become mysteries, because nobody, not even the people involved, knows the ending until it happens.
I think that sensationalist journalism is as addictive as dope or candy or gambling. You need your fix every day, like coffee. We like to be shocked. It is as old as human nature. People in Rome went to the coliseums to see people slaughtered and torn apart from the safety of the stands. We still like to watch the same things from the safety of our living rooms. Only this time, people are losing their reputations and being pulled apart by reporters. There is also an element of "thank God it's not me!"
Q: If you had to pick one author who has had the most influence on your life, who would it be? Why?
A: I would have to say Ayn Rand. I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 16. It made me realize the power of the individual and the danger of compromise.
Q: Where you satisfied with the film version of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe? How much input did you get in the making of the movie?
A: I was thrilled with the movie version of Fried Green Tomatoes. I wrote the screenplay with Carol Soboski. Having had friends whose books were turned into movies, I was extremely lucky that it turned out so well. I think I had about as much input as most screenwriters get. As you know, once you sell the book for a movie, it really belongs to the director. Jon Avnet, my director and producer, was probably even more generous with me than most, and we worked very closely on the script.
Q: Who are Fannie Flagg's heroes?
A: My heroes are and always have been the so-called ordinary people. I say "so-called" because I think nurses, firemen, teachers, parents, waitresses, et cetera, who get up every day and go to work even when they don't feel like it and try to do the best they can, are heroes. My heart goes out to all who try. I feel that there is great stuff in most human beings. My God, think of the young boys who fought in the second World War to defend their country. Some are still in Veterans' Hospitals today. My heroes are middle-class Americans. To me they are what have made and do make this country great. God knows, they pay the most taxes!
Q: What was the last book you read and loved? What's the last movie you loved?
A: The last book I read and loved was Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner. The last movie? "The Full Monty." Those men touched me so -- I really cared about them.