Synopses & Reviews
In this touching, hilarious novel of the heart and mind, of dreams and memory, of desire and first love, Abe Lee comes of age in the 1960s, living with his unforgettable family at the Flamingo Drive-In Theatre on a scrubby patch of coast between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida. There, some of America's last sweet moments of innocence are unfolding.
For Abe's father, Hubert, there's nothing better than presenting larger-than-life Hollywood fantasies on his vast silver screen. Nothing, that is, except gleefully sparring with Turner West--a funeral home operator who doesn't much appreciate the noise and merriment from the drive-in next door. Within the lively orbit of this ongoing feud is Abe's mother, Edna Marie, whose calm radiance conceals deep secrets; his sister, Louise, who blossoms almost too quickly into a stunning, willful young woman; and Judge Lester, a clumsy man on the ground who turns graceful when he takes to the sky, towing the Flamingo banner behind his small plane. Then Abe falls for Turner's beautiful daughter Grace. That's when, long before the Fourth of July festivities, the fireworks really begin. . . .
It's the 1960s in Jacksonville, Florida (where the sixties are still the fifties), and some of America's last sweet moments of innocence are unfolding out on the coastal highway at the Flamingo Drive-In Theatre, owned and operated by the Lee family. For patriarch Hubert Lee, a man of big spirit and bigger ego, there's nothing better than presenting larger-than-life Hollywood dreams on his gigantic silver screen. Nothing, that is, except gleefully frustrating the dream of Turner West -- a funeral home operator who longs to build a cemetery on land owned by Lee. It's the sorest point in a long-running feud between the neighboring businessmen ... until their teenage children fall in love. That's when, long before the Flamingo's traditional Fourth of July festivities, the fireworks really start.
About the Author
Larry Baker lives with his wife and children in Iowa City, where he teaches literature and history. Currently serving his second term on the City Council of Iowa City, he is seeking reelection this fall. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I was raised an Army/Air Force brat. Traveled with my family all over the country and then overseas. I was introduced to my father when I was three or four. He was sitting up in my mother's bed, sheet pulled up to the bottom of his shirtless chest, a pair of binoculars hanging from around his neck, in a room with the curtains closed. If my writing shows some character's ambivalent feelings toward his father, it is probably me using fiction as therapy.
I was married when I was eighteen. It was the Sixties. If a girl told you that she was pregnant, the expected thing to do was marry her, at least in Texas, when the girl's father was the Chief of Police. I was divorced five years later. My ex-wife then called me to ask me to take custody of our son so she could marry a Jordanian multi-millionaire who "was all the man you never were, Larry." I happened to be living with a young woman at the time who informed me that her being a step-mother at age twenty was not in her contract, so I was soon a bachelor father.
Started working at a drive-in. Made a career of it. During my drive-in career I was robbed four times, shot at once, stabbed once, arrested for collusion to transport pornographic materials across state lines, beat up by a motorcycle gang in Tulsa, found a dead woman in the toilet, was attacked by an irate father who accused me of embarrassing his daughter at a Friday night full house, interrupted countless couples who were having sex in their car or van, established the unofficial obscenity standards for the state of Oklahoma by showing Deep Throat without getting arrested, caused a thirteen car pile-up on an interstate highway by showering the highway with windblown fireworks, and then there were all those episodes that I can't even put in print.
I met my present wife in graduate school. I had just recently sold my last theater, the Hollywood, in Norman, Oklahoma, and was known in the English Department only as "that guy who showed that Marilyn Chambers movie." Even before it was a cliche, I was politically incorrect. She and I literally first met outside the bathroom at a party given by the other graduate students. It was 1978, but it might as well have been 1968. In the front room was a line of people passing around a joint, a line which included several nursing mothers. Unlike Clinton, everyone was inhaling, even the babes in arms. Waiting outside the bathroom, I looked at her short hair and asked her if she was a lesbian. She asked me if I was a pornographer. It was love.
A few months later she took me to Nashville to meet her family. I was Southern, but I had never really met Southern Gothic before. My new brother-in-law, Bobby Russell, was the writer of "Honey--Little Green Apples--The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" and other country hits, as well as a man who worshipped Elvis and kept Nazi memorabilia in all his bathrooms, as well as hanging Nazi flags in the barn where he used to watch his prize race horses procreate. Vicky Lawrence was one of his wives. She created the characters for Carol Burnett's skit called Mama's Family. I heard those lines long before they were on television. Scary.
I moved to Iowa City to finish my PhD in English, after a nasty year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Those people still insist that the North lost. Once in Iowa City, I got mad at a local developer who was tearing down old houses to build apartments. I ran for City Council, lost, got appointed to the Zoning Commission and then ran for office again in 1983, winning with 65% of the vote. A four year term, and then, after adopting kids, I moved to Florida, was miserable, fell in love with the ocean (I do not swim), moved back to Iowa City and ran for Council again in 1993 and won with 55% of the vote.
Right now I work part-time at WaldenBooks, teach three classes at a local community college (history and literature), and my being an elected official of the America's most educated community (according to the US Census Bureau), and home of the Writer's Workshop, will be the acid test of whether irony and politics can survive together.
I am working on my second novel tentatively titled The Education of Nancy Flynn, all about sex, teaching, and politics.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Guide copyright © 1998 by The Ballantine Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc.
1. Abraham's father lost his faith in God at age seventeen when his parents died. Have you ever had your faith in God seriously challenged because of a personal tragedy? If so, how do you maintain that faith in the face of such a challenge?
2. How would you describe Hubert Lee's motivation for building his drive-in theater?
3. The narrator describes the first time he began to understand his father better and see him as a multidimensional individual. Describe that turning point in your own life.
4. Why is Louise so rebellious and secretive? Is it simply because of her age and stage in life or is there something deeper at work?
5. Larry Baker's first draft of this story used the father as the narrator but the story didn't work; Baker put it aside for ten years before finally figuring out he needed the son, Abraham, as the narrator. Why do you think this story failed with the father as narrator? What would have been missing if Hubert had remained the narrator? What is gained by having Abraham tell the story instead of his dad?
6. Do you see any similarities between The Flamingo Rising's main character, Hubert Lee, and Captain Ahab, the central character from the Melville classic Moby Dick? Are there other similarities beyond these two characters or these two novels?
7. What aspects of Abraham Isaac's personality come from his mother? What aspects come from his father? Do you think it is nurture or nature that dictates the development of our children?
8. North Florida, in the 1960s, simmered with racial, class, and economic tensions that receive little attention in this book. Baker has said he wanted to underscore the fact that the Flamingo is protected from the outside world. Why does the author want to create this protected environment?
9. One of the last movies shown at the Flamingo Drive-In is The Green Berets. Afterward, people start asking Abraham and Louise if they're from Vietnam. Does this mean the outside world is starting to encroach on the Flamingo? Is the author's message simply "you can't protect your children forever"?
10. Why is Hubert unable to accept the fact that his wife has been faithful to him? Do you think Hubert is crazy? If so, why does Edna marry him? Does this make her crazy as well?
11. Abraham--an adopted child--talks about being asked, in school, who his real parents are. He says, "I know that it is politically correct today to differentiate between biological and adoptive parents. Even to this day, however, my father rejects that distinction." Do you think there should be a distinction between biological and adoptive parents? Should adopted kids be told they're adopted? If your answer is yes, at what age should they be told? Hubert Lee says biology has nothing to do with parenthood. Do you agree?
12. In describing Louise, Abraham says, "From that first day of class until her graduation, Louise slowly, but inexorably, separated herself from my father's vision of our future." Why did Louise feel the need to separate herself in this way?
13. Why do you think Hubert agrees to honor Grace's request not to show The Loved One?
14. What do you think of the character Alice Kite? Why does she take such an interest in Abraham's sexual development?
15. Abraham says, "The Sunday after the Fourth [of July] of 1967 was one of those pivotal days in my life, and I was not paying attention. I should have seen the distant look on my father's face, seen the tightness around my mother's eyes, heard the rip in the fabric they had wrapped around themselves." To what is Abraham referring? Why was the Sunday after the Fourth of July so pivotal for him?
16. Why do you think Abraham has set up a private gallery? What purpose does it serve for him? Why does he keep it secret from his family?
17. Baker has two chapters--one of them titled "My First Twelve Pictures" and the other "Six Pictures Taken 7/4/68, Before the Box Office Opened"--in which Abraham describes photographs that he's taken. Why do you think Baker has inserted these chapters? Why is it important to give us Abraham's description of these photographs? What do the pictures represent?
18. Why do you think the family decides to hold on to the dog, Frank, despite the fact that he attacked Louise and almost killed her?
19. Why does Hubert decide to burn down the Flamingo? And why does Abraham leave Frank in the tower to burn to death? Of that decision, Abraham says, "Of all the people there, gaping at me, only Alice understood. I think she did." What is it that Alice understands?
20. How does The Flamingo Rising compare to other "coming-of-age" stories that you've read?