South Alabama setting for Flagg’s latest work

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

‘A Redbird Christmas’

By Fannie Flagg

Random House, 2004

Birmingham native Fannie Flagg has delighted many readers in the past with such novels as &uot;Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Caf\u00E9&uot; and &uot;Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!&uot;.

Her latest work is no exception. &uot;A Redbird Christmas&uot; features an assortment of interesting characters, plenty of humor and Flagg's trademark good-heartedness.

And don’t let the title turn you off from reading the novel &uot;out of season&uot;.

While the story begins and ends at Christmastime, Flagg’s story takes you through a year of changing seasons in &uot;the southernmost part of Alabama&uot;.

The novel actually begins during a cold, snowy Chicago winter – Oswald T. Campbell’s last winter, if his doctor’s diagnosis is correct. The doctor advises Campbell to head south to a place the physician’s own father had highly enjoyed, the charming Woodbound Hotel in Lost River, Alabama.

As it turns out, the Woodbound burned down decades ago. But a friendly, no-nonsense lady named Betty Kitchen is happy to take in a boarder (hopefully he will ignore her rather eccentric mother). Soon Campbell is settling in – and waiting for what he assumes is the inevitable.

Along the way he makes friends with a postman who delivers mail by boat, a general store owner who has loved and lost, and the good-hearted ladies of the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society, who enjoy performing good works in secret. Everyone seems to reach out to the shy Midwesterner with open arms.

And something odd begins to happen. Instead of grower weaker and sicker, as he expected, Campbell finds himself growing plumper, rosier and stronger as the months pass.

One of the most unusual friends Campbell makes is a pretty redbird named Jack, tamed and taught tricks by local storeowner Roy.

Campbell is not the only one charmed by the bright little bird. A mysterious little girl is also captivated by Jack. Who is the child, who does she belong to, and what happened to cause her little body to be twisted and crippled?

The child draws the entire community together, including newcomer Oswald T. Campbell, in an effort to come to her aid.

&uot;A Redbird Christmas&uot; is a story filled with hope, laughter and love. It reminds the reader how such qualities can transform a life and a community. There are also lots of Baldwin County references, which are fun for L.A. readers like myself. If you have enjoyed Flagg’s other novels or you’re a fan of Jan Karon’s Mitford series, you will likely enjoy this charming, simply told tale.