Welcome to Elmwood Springs, Missouri the fictional setting of Fannie Flagg's long-awaited novel, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl. As near perfect as you can get without having to get downright sentimental about it or making up a bunch of lies, this neighborly town is filled with charming, quirky characters and has a strong, endearing sense of community.

Dena Nordstrom otherwise known lovingly as Baby Girl is the surprisingly well-adjusted daughter of Norma and Macky Nordstrom. And though Dena has left Elmwood Springs to become a TV anchorwoman and the pride and joy of her network, her hometown is still an intrinsic part of her, and she of it. With a future full of promise, Dena survives her complicated present and her mysterious past, all of which are tied to Elmwood Springs.

Flagg, an Alabama native, has, time and again, proven her mastery of storytelling, her ability to make each character vivid and real. Welcome to the World is no different. With an expert ear for language, Flagg, through her narrator, lovingly invites us to be a part of this community that is Elmwood Springs, this community with bounds far more reaching than any map could measure.

Much of this novel is vintage Flagg. For instance, Aunt Elner blesses Dena's heart from afar over the fact that she eats in restaurants day and night up in New York City. Mourning the lack of anything homemade in Dena's diet, Aunt Elner decides to make use of her stockpile of hickory nuts and send her my hickory nut cake with the caramel icing. There are no hidden symbols in this cake, no hidden answer to a mystery. This and other examples have little or no bearing on the plot at all. These entertaining asides, however, are ultimately the essence of Flagg's novel.

Through unmistakable voices and rich ties to home, Welcome to the World illustrates how much a part of a person place can be. You can take the baby girl out of Elmwood Springs, but you can't take Elmwood Springs out of the baby girl.

Pat Patrick is a reviewer in Nashville.

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