Maggie Fortenberry, a former Miss Alabama turned real estate agent, seemed to have the perfect life, but is now waking up to the realization that life isn’t everything those Hollywood technicolor movies promised. She pines for simpler times, when men opened doors for ladies, music was upbeat and cheery, and all stories had a happy ending. But where was hers? Now, in the autumn of her life (she thinks she’s a very young 60), she’s finding it hard to keep up the perkiness of her pageant days. She’s facing some cold, hard facts about the world. Life is not fair, and things don’t always work out in the end. She had that old southern belle training that ensured she knew how to set a table and exit a car like a lady, but it left her virtually unprepared for life’s real travails. Unlucky in love, she never married or had children, and her once-thriving career has hit hard times thanks to the economy.
But mostly, Maggie still misses her old boss and mentor, Hazel Whisenknott, a feisty powerhouse who was no more than three feet, four inches high and whose presence could still be strongly felt: “It was said about Hazel that she was a person who could change your mind about the entire human race.” Nothing has been the same at Red Mountain Realty since Hazel died five years ago. Homes aren’t moving like they used to, and it’s all Maggie and her co-workers can do to keep their tiny office afloat. To make matters worse, Babs “the Beast of Birmingham” Bingington, a rival realtor, is breathing down their necks, stealing listings and commissions, just waiting for her chance to take over the office and fire them all. It had been said of Babs that she married and divorced two men just to get their listings.
Rather than surrender to Babs, Maggie comes up with a plan that she thinks will solve everything. But as the saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, make plans. Maggie is finding it hard to execute her caper, as life keeps getting in the way. Thank goodness for people like Brenda, her lovable co-worker who never met a doughnut she didn’t like. With a keen interest in local politics, Brenda has her sights set on being the first female African-American mayor of Birmingham one day, and Maggie and their receptionist Ethel are her biggest supporters. Now if she can only keep away from the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the freezer that’s been calling her name.
But Maggie’s luck is about to change. While at the beauty parlor, the best source of local information, she overhears that the Dalton family is considering selling Crestview, the stately manor house that overlooks the entire city. Maggie used to dream of living there when she was a child. Through some good old-fashioned detective work, Maggie manages to score the listing, beating out the “Beast.” She soon discovers though that everyone has a secret or two to hide, even the house’s former owner, Edward Crocker.
Fannie Flagg is at her folksy best with this sweet tale of friendship, loyalty and wistfulness in an ever-changing world. What never changes in any of Flagg’s novels is her keen ability to tell a story with her sweet southern charm and humor, best illustrated by a scene in which Maggie an