When an avid reader and dear friend recommends a novel, her favorite one at that, I gladly agree to read the loaner. In this case, Fannie Flagg’s Standing in the Rainbow does not disappoint.
Following the lives of residents from the small town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, through generations, the reader becomes emotionally engaged, and, in essence, a member of middle America. Visualizing Bobby Smith, the only son of the Smith family, overcome his fear in order to climb the water tower as a young boy and his coming to the realization of his smallness in this vast universe offered the reader his raw humanity:
Could it really be possible that . . . [I] was nothing but just another small dot among a bunch of other small dots? . . . always thought . . . [I] was something different, something special. Now . . . [I] was thrown for a complete loop. (21)
Furthermore, reading of Bobby’s school work struggles which resulted in the repeat of sixth grade allowed me to bond with this young man, and I found myself silently cheering him on. His eventual enlistment in the Korean War caused me great tension because I was so invested, fearful he may not return, so I proceeded slowly and with caution while reading as my buddy who had given me the loaner has probably been wondering when I was planning to return her novel.
Flagg writes with such humor as in her depiction of the Oatmans crammed in their car travelling cross country to their next singing gig. With the older brothers and daughter, Betty Raye, in the back, and the chaos and noise from the front seat, the reader learns, “Chester the dummy was out of his box, yammering away at Ferris and complaining because Floyd had also wanted to stop at the gas station and get himself a cold Dr. Pepper” (100).
Flagg, in her writing, is able to capture such a simpler time, bringing forth a sense of nostalgia for the reader. When Bobby’s Cub Scout field trip is canceled due to rain, he is not bothered or unable to entertain himself. Instead, he spends the day on the porch watching the rain and listening “to the sounds of the cars swishing up and down the wet streets” (102), no cell phone or computer needed. Later, when his grandmother joins him on the porch, and he inquires about life when she was a child and whether she was bored with no electricity, movies, or radio, Mother Smith explains, “We had books and we played games and sang and went to parties. You know, you don’t miss what you don’t know” (103). This brought to mind my many weekends spent with my own grandparents feeding the geese, helping grind meat, and walking around their farmhouse in the ice and snow pretending I was on quite the explorer’s adventure.
Just a friendly suggestion, but towards the end of Standing in the Rainbow, be sure and keep the tissues within an arm’s reach. As the reader concludes following roughly four decades of life, there is the inevitable end of life and reflection on what has been, what could have been, and what inevitably remains. Thus, take the time to meet Tot, Macky, Neighbor Dorothy along with the other residents of Elmwood Springs and really listen to their stories.