Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!
Random House, 1998
“. . . Poor little old human beings—they’re jerked into this world without having any idea where they came from or what it is they are supposed to do, or how long they have to do it in. Or where they are gonna wind up after that. But bless their hearts, most of them wake up every morning and keep on trying to make some sense out of it. Why you can’t help but love them, can you? I just wonder why more of them aren’t as crazy as betsy bugs.” – Aunt Elner, 1978
Dena Nordstrom, the book’s main character, is an up and coming television newscaster in early 1970s New York City. She is tall, blond and has porcelain white skin – a striking beauty who calls attention to herself even if she isn’t seeking it. But Dena harbors a secret and it’s forcing her to work herself into an early grave. Her father died before she was born and her mother disappeared from her life when she was just 15 years old. The only family she has are her father’s cousins, Norma and Macky Warren and great-Aunt Elner, all of whom live in the very small All-American town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri. Circumstances force Dena to confront her past and slowly embrace both herself and her family.
The story is full of characters, both smarmy and wacky. Dena herself is constantly unsure of herself but as long as she can drink, take Valium, smoke and keep running she makes a success of her life – at least on the surface. Her boss, Ira Wallace, is disgusting both physically and personally. He’d sell his own mother for good dirt on anybody. Best friend from college Sookie forces her crazy-friendly way back into Dena’s life, and unknowingly sets off a cascade of events that bring Dena to the truth about herself and her mother. Gerry, her psychiatrist for just a few sessions, falls madly in love with her and pursues her to Missouri – dressed as a 14th century troubadour bearing roses and a song. Cousin Norma talks a mile a minute, is frantic about everything and worries so much her long suffering husband Macky just keeps breathing deeply and sighing. It is Norma, Macky and Aunt Elner who call Dena ‘Baby Girl.’
The book starts off a little slow and a little confusing at first; but then I remembered that the other book I read (but not reviewed) by Fannie Flagg, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, was the same format so I figure that’s just the way the author writes. The story winds its way backwards and forwards, almost with every chapter. The book starts out in 1948 and then jumps to 1973, then back to the 60’s, forward again, backward again and so on. It’s sort of like having your mother or older friend tell you about her life and the story about her 10th year birthday party leads her to tell you about your 5th year birthday party, which then leads her to tell you about the time her mother fell off the porch – you get the whole story but not in a linear way. Welcome is funny in places, especially where Norma, Macky and Elner are concerned but overall it wasn’t as funny as Can’t Wait – that one was hilarious! Overall I enjoyed it and Ms Flagg has made it onto my favorite author’s list.