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Can't Wait to Get to Heavenby Fannie Flagg
Synopses & Reviews
Combining southern warmth with unabashed emotion and side-splitting hilarity, Fannie Flagg takes readers back to Elmwood Springs, Missouri, where the most unlikely and surprising experiences of a high-spirited octogenarian inspire a town to ponder the age-old question: Why are we here?
Life is the strangest thing. One minute, Mrs. Elner Shimfissle is up in her tree, picking figs, and the next thing she knows, she is off on an adventure she never dreamed of, running into people she never in a million years expected to meet. Meanwhile, back home, Elner's nervous, high-strung niece Norma faints and winds up in bed with a cold rag on her head; Elner's neighbor Verbena rushes immediately to the Bible; her truck driver friend, Luther Griggs, runs his eighteen-wheeler into a ditch-and the entire town is thrown for a loop and left wondering, What is life all about, anyway? Except for Tot Whooten, who owns Tot's Tell It Like It Is Beauty Shop. Her main concern is that the end of the world might come before she can collect her social security.
In this comedy-mystery, those near and dear to Elner discover something wonderful: Heaven is actually right here, right now, with people you love, neighbors you help, friendships you keep. Can't Wait to Get to Heaven is proof once more that Fannie Flagg "was put on this earth to write" (Southern Living), spinning tales as sweet and refreshing as iced tea on a summer day, with a little extra kick thrown in.
"Returning to Elmwood Springs, Mo., (where her sprawling 2002 novel, Standing in the Rainbow, chronicled the small town's inhabitants over five decades), Flagg keeps this outing much more tightly-focused; most of the novel takes place over a few days. Octogenarian Elner Shimfissle falls off a ladder after accidentally disturbing a hornets' nest while picking figs. After she dies at the hospital, the novel's bite-size chapters alternate between funny and touching vignettes showing how Elner's death and life has affected dozens of people in town, interspersed with scenes of Elner's laugh-out-loud assent into the hereafter. From there, the plot offers readers a series of delightful surprises. Perhaps Flagg's funniest novel since her debut, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, she's created a charming, life-affirming tale and a full cast of memorable characters, including Elner's late sister, Ida, who greets her in heaven still carrying her purse and a grudge about the bad hair styling she got for her funeral. Flagg is an expert at balancing pathos with plenty of Southern sass, and this could very well be the feel-good read of the summer." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"After seeing 'Fried Green Tomatoes,' the movie version of Fannie Flagg's 1987 best-seller, with its only slightly submerged lesbian theme and a murdered man who becomes barbecue, my elderly aunt commented wistfully, 'Well, it really wasn't like "Driving Miss Daisy," was it?' Flagg's new novel, 'Can't Wait to Get to Heaven,' isn't 'Miss Daisy' either, of course, but it shows the same perfect... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) pitch in describing Southern mores. It is a thoroughly genial take on a staple of Southern fiction: death in a small town. When Elner Shimfissle, an elderly resident of Elmwood Springs, Mo., who lives with an orange cat named Sonny, ascends her ladder to pick figs, she accidentally pokes a wasps' nest. Badly stung and awaiting the ambulance, Elner foggily worries that her protective niece, Norma, will use the accident as a pretext for depriving her of ladder privileges. Always on the verge of hysteria, Norma has had a bag marked 'Hospital Emergency, Aunt Elner' for a decade. But it's worse: The fretful Elner is dead. Those of us who hail from small towns in the South will instantly recognize the characters and their response to the inevitable. (Though Missouri is arguably more Midwestern than Southern, Flagg is from Alabama.) Southern readers also will be intimately acquainted with Elmwood Springs' characteristic form of grief therapy: carbs. 'Can't Wait to Get to Heaven' — the title comes from a gospel song Elner has requested in advance — supplies recipes for several of those gooey comfort foods that neighbors bring practically before the body is cold. 'Nothing too spicy,' Flagg writes. 'When you are upset, you need bland and simple cream-based food.' Among the reassuring dishes: pimiento cheese deviled eggs, green bean funeral casserole and that sweet without which nobody can go into the ground: a great big caramel cake. (Neighbor Dorothy's Heavenly Caramel Cake looks heavenly indeed.) Curiously absent is tomato aspic; where I come from, you almost can't get a death certificate without aspic. As in real life, all the characters in this book have a surprising, hidden side. Elner is no exception. For starters, her exact age is unknown, even to herself. Her sister Ida long ago stole and buried the family Bible to conceal her own age. Elner was the less pretentious sister who came to the aid of numerous of her fellow citizens, among them chunky, tattooed Luther Griggs, who drives an 18-wheeler. Elner took Luther, a mistreated child, under her wing, but only after she got even with him, in a manner that still troubles her, for his throwing rocks at Sonny. One of Elner's great charms is that she is a curious old lady. 'Norma, I think there is a mistake in the Bible, who do I tell, (radio hosts) Bud and Jay or Reverend Jenkins?' she asks. Thanks to a gossipy (but fundamentally decent) nurse at the hospital, word of Elner's demise spreads rapidly. The news is even announced on the 'Bud and Jay Show.' While waiting for Elner's body to arrive, Neva, who owns the Rest Assured Funeral Home, reflects fondly that she has a soft spot for Elner's family. 'The entire family had been loyal to them throughout the years,' Flagg writes, 'and Neva always took special care with their decedents, treated them as she would one of her own.' Neva muses a bit less fondly on the problematical funeral of Verbena Wheeler's Aunt Dottie Ditty, who weighed 328 pounds and thus 'represented a challenge right from the get-go.' Flagg is also dead right, so to speak, on small-town obituaries, which tend to flatter both the deceased and their survivors. Cathy Calvert, editor of the weekly in Elmwood Springs, devotes special effort to the writing of an obituary, knowing as she does that it is 'one of the few times most law-abiding citizens got to see their names in the newspaper.' While Elner's friends and relatives are scurrying around to prepare for her funeral, Elner has already gotten to heaven. That she's just visiting seems to be quite clear, and so I'm not spoiling the end by telling you so. Sadly, the post-mortem portions of the book aren't as heavenly as the earthly ones. When Elner meets her Maker, He appears to her in the form of Neighbor Dorothy's pipe-smoking husband, Raymond. Asked by Elner to name His favorites among the human kind, He replies, 'Hard to say, they are all special ... teachers ... visiting nurses ... firemen — excuse me, firepersons now — but I was particularly fond of the U.S. women's soccer team, weren't they something?' You expect Him to say any minute that life is like a box of chocolates. But I did enjoy her brief reunion with Ida, who still insists she was only 59 when she died. Anyone 'who would still lie about her age even after she's dead is pretty vain, if you ask me,' Elner muses. What saves this book from being more sugary than Neighbor Dorothy's Heavenly Caramel Cake is Flagg's unerring eye for human foibles. Here's Bud of the 'Bud and Jay Show' reflecting on the show's erroneous report of Elner's demise: 'Now he knew just how CNN and FOX News felt when they jumped the gun on a story.' And a neighbor shrieks, 'What do you mean, she's not dead? I was just fixing to throw out her milk.' Not surprisingly, Elner returns from the afterlife even more determined than before to live each day to the hilt. She also brings back an eminently useful bit of knowledge: 'When you are dead, people go through all your things, so if you have anything you don't want found, you better get rid of it before you go!' That's a lesson we might all do well to learn — before it's too late. Neighbor Dorothy's Heavenly Caramel Cake Preheat oven to 350 degrees. The cake: 1-3/4 cups cake flour (sift before measuring) Resift with 1 cup brown sugar Add: 1/2 cup soft butter 2 eggs 1/2 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon salt 1-3/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder 1 teaspoon vanilla Beat for 3 minutes. Bake in greased pan for 1/2 hour. The frosting: 2 tablespoons cake flour 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup butter, softened 1/4 cup shortening 1/4 teaspoon salt Mix cake flour and milk. Cook to a thick paste over slow flame. Cool. Cream sugars and vanilla with butter and shortening. Beat until light and fluffy. Blend in salt. Mix in cooled paste. Beat until fluffy. Blend. Should look like whipped cream. — From :Can't Wait to Get to Heaven,' by Fannie Flagg Charlotte Hays is co-author of 'Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral.'" Reviewed by Charlotte Hays, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"If not the queen of authors who write sweet stories that avoid being saccharine, Fannie Flagg is certainly royalty....[A] read that is here and gone as quickly as a lovely sunset. It isn't a work that will resonate for long, but it isn't meant to." Denver Post
"The characters are endearing, the story is engaging. Good triumphs over evil, mostly....The book is not perfect....But on the whole it's a comforting and sometimes thought-provoking read, especially for those interested in end-of-life scenarios and issues." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
In the tradition of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Standing in the Rainbow, beloved novelist Fannie Flagg returns with a full-length novel about the mystery surrounding a woman's peculiar experience in the afterlife.
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. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which was produced by Universal Pictures as Fried Green Tomatoes), Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, Standing in the Rainbow, and A Redbird Christmas. Flagg's script for Fried Green Tomatoes was nominated for both the Academy and Writers Guild of America awards and won the highly regarded Scripters Award. Flagg lives in California and in Alabama.
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