The old adage, “Life’s better in the movies,” certainly applies to Margaret Fortenberry. Fortenberry, a Birmingham native who was crowned Miss Alabama in her youth, grew up in a Technicolor world that, by the novel’s opening, has long since faded away. As a girl, her father operated the Dreamland Theatre, and the family lived in the same building that housed the old movies. Every night, Maggie (as she was called by friends) drifted off to silver-screen dreams.

At the opening of Fannie Flagg’s wonderful new novel I Still Dream About You, that little girl is now an aging real estate agent in a depressed housing market. Things are anything but rosy for Maggie. Her former boss and mentor Hazel, a petite powerhouse of a saleswoman, has passed away. Without her champion, Maggie feels like she’s flailing. Sinking into depression, she replays memories of missed opportunities (she almost won that Miss America pageant) and regrets (she almost married her high school sweetheart), and thus the first chapter finds Maggie penning her suicide note.

Then the phone rings, and Maggie is given an opportunity to delay her carefully planned escape by a few days. “There was certainly no danger of her changing her mind,” Flagg writes, as Maggie pushes back her plans. Predictably—given the ensuing 300-plus pages of I Still Dream About You—certain events unfold that perfectionist Maggie, always clad in designer clothes, with perfectly coiffed hair and manicured nails, must attend to before neatly wrapping up her own life.

There’s the antagonistic Yankee-transplant of a realtor, Babs Bingington (complete with a faux Southern accent), whom Maggie must battle for a sale that means the world to her. There’s her colleague Brenda, a woman with political aspirations and a food addiction, who needs Maggie in an emergency. There’s a car accident, the resurgence of an old lover, the discovery of a body in an attic—and dying suddenly plays second fiddle to such a long to-do list.

Despite the dark opening, I Still Dream About You is a surprisingly light read, thanks to a cast of folksy, eccentric characters full of gumption and good judgment. Flagg, who demonstrated her penchant for hilarity with the best-selling Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, draws plenty more belly laughs here. By the time the credits roll, I Still Dream About You offers hope aplenty and a happy ending all its own.

 

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