Friday, December 21, 2018

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

I decided to deviate from my planned holiday reads and picked up Fannie Flagg's A Redbird Christmas after spotting it at the library and realizing it was time to finally read it. I've spent many Christmas retail years putting this book on endcap displays and holiday book tables, but never planned on reading it. I guess I had to wait for the right time. 

The holidays can be a really tough time for many folks. It seems like loss is amplified, surrounded by what should be a cheerful, exciting time of the year. I've had two family members pass on during this time: one at the beginning of the season, and one just after Christmas. It's now become a bittersweet time of year for me. I love the music, the lights, the excitement, but it's become more of a reflection and remembering of what Christmas was for me as a kid and young adult. Now it's a chance to reconnect with friends, even if only for a few hours. It's a time to be home, spending quiet time reading or just chilling out. I suppose all of that is normal as we grow older, and think about making our own Christmas traditions. 

I've read a few Fannie Flagg novels, and they always find me at the right time. There's something about her gentle humor, endearing characters, and storytelling that puts a smile on my face. This novel was no different. Published in 2004, A Redbird Christmas has become a modern holiday classic. It's the story of Oswald  Campbell, a middle-aged man who is a recovering alcoholic living a rather lonely life in Chicago. A visit to his doctor gives him bad news: if he stays in Chicago, he'll probably die of pneumonia within a few months. Years of trouble with his lungs have made living in the cold winters of Chicago deadly. 

Oswald's doctor recommends a place his father, also a doctor, sent his patients years ago: a small town in Alabama called Lost River, where folks can stay and rest in the warmth of a southern winter. Oswald's got nothing to lose, so he packs up his meager possessions and travels to Lost River, not knowing what to expect. 

What follows once Oswald arrives is a perfect Christmas tale about neighbors becoming family, a funny little redbird called Jack, and the kindness of strangers. Oswald finds himself in a place that is unlike anywhere else he's ever been, and just what he needs. A little girl named Patsy becomes part of Lost River's community, and her friendship with Jack, the redbird that lives at the general store, is the main storyline of the novel. Lost River is a small town full of quirky, kind folks who take care of each other and gently stay in each other's business. I kept thinking I had overlooked when this novel takes place, but I realize it's never mentioned. I like to think it's somewhere in the 1960's or 1970's, but I'm not sure. It didn't bother me, and I actually preferred the story without a specific era--it added to the sense that Lost River was timeless. 

Jack, the redbird, figures prominently in this novel, and I didn't realize until the end that I understood cardinals are seen as a message from our loved ones on the other side. I knew this, but didn't make the connection until the very end. And considering that this holiday season is a little more bittersweet and sad than it usually is, well, I think my redbird visit came from a book this year. I've always believed books come into your life when you need a certain message, and this one has come in loud and clear for me. 

Now if I see a cardinal at all in the next week, I just may freak out! But in a good way. 

Rating:  4/6 for a gentle, sweet tale of finding family, finding a new beginning out of an ending, and enjoying the simple joys of life. This is a perfect gift for readers who enjoy short tales, Southern locales, and characters who worm their way into your heart. 

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook. 

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