Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man

A Novel
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In Fannie Flagg’s high-spirited first novel, we meet Daisy Fay Harper in the spring of 1952, where she’s “not doing much except sitting around waiting for the sixth grade.” When she leaves Shell Beach, Mississippi, in September 1959, she is packed up and ready for the Miss America Pageant, vowing “I won’t come back until I’m somebody.” But in our hearts she already is.

Sassy and irreverent from the get-go, Daisy Fay takes us on a rollicking journey through her formative years on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. There, at The End of the Road of the South, the family malt shop freezer holds unspeakable things, society maven Mrs. Dot hosts Junior Debutante meetings and shares inspired thoughts for the week (such as “sincerity is as valuable as radium”), and Daisy Fay’s Daddy hatches a quick-cash scheme that involves resurrecting his daughter from the dead in a carefully orchestrated miracle. Along the way, Daisy Fay does a lot of growing up, emerging as one of the most hilarious, appealing, and prized characters in modern fiction.

Praise

“A hilarious, endearing novel.”
–Los Angeles Times

“SHEER UNBEATABLE ENTERTAINMENT.”
–Cosmopolitan

“UNFORGETTABLE AND IRRESISTIBLE.”
–Chattanooga Free Press

“SIDE-SPLITTINGLY FUNNY.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

Excerpt

1952
 
April 1, 1952
 
Hello there … my name is Daisy Fay Harper and I was eleven years old yesterday. My Grandmother Pettibone won the jackpot at the VFW bingo game and bought me a typewriter for my birthday. She wants me to practice typing so when I grow up, I can be a secretary, but my cat, Felix, who is pregnant, threw up on it and ruined it, which is OK with me. I don’t know what is the matter with Grandma. I have told her a hundred times I want to be a tree surgeon or a blacksmith.
 
I got a Red Ryder BB gun from Daddy and some Jantzen mix-and-match outfits Momma bought me at the Smart and Sassy Shop. Ugh! Grandma Harper sent me a pair of brown and white saddle shoes—Momma won’t let me wear loafers, she says they will ruin my feet—and a blue cellophane windmill on a stick I am way too old for.
 
Momma took me downtown to see a movie called His Kind of Woman with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, billed as the hottest pair on the screen. I wanted to see Pals of the Golden West with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, where Roy patrols the border for cattle-smuggling bandits. But Momma is mad at Daddy for giving me a BB gun so I didn’t push it. I’m not doing much except sitting around waiting for the sixth grade. My friend Peggy Box who is thirteen won’t play with me anymore. All she wants to do is listen to Johnnie Ray sing “The Little White Cloud That Cried.”
 
I am an only child. Momma didn’t even know she was going to have a baby. Daddy was in bed with the flu, and when the doctor came to see Daddy, Momma said all of a sudden a big lump came up on her right side. She said, “Doctor look at this!” He told Daddy to get out of bed and for Momma to get in it. He said that lump was a baby, maybe even twins. Boy, was Momma surprised. But it wasn’t twins, it was only me. Momma was in labor for a long time and Daddy got mad about it and choked the doctor. When I was being born, I kicked Momma so hard that now she can’t have any more children. I don’t remember kicking her at all. It wasn’t my fault I was so fat and if Daddy hadn’t choked the doctor and made him nervous, I would have been born better. Whenever she tells anybody the story about having me, her labor gets longer and longer. Daddy says I would have to have been a three-year-old child with hair and teeth and everything, to hear Momma tell it.
 
I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and as far as me being a girl it was just fine because my daddy wanted a little girl. He said he knew I’d be a girl and he wrote a poem about me that was published in the newspaper in the Letters to the Editor section before I ever got here.
 
We are expecting a blessed event in just a week or two
And if my wife’s cravings are to be a clue
Then our daughter is going to be a little pig … it’s true
Because all her mother craves night and day is barbecue
 
I’m glad Daddy wanted a girl. Most men want boys. Daddy never wanted any old stinky boy who might grow up to have a big neck and play football. He feels those kind of people are dangerous. Baseball is our game. Jim Piersall is our favorite player. He screams and hollers and causes trouble and has a true understanding of the game.
 
Daddy says that everybody in history has a twin and that he and Mr. Harry Truman could be equals in history. Daddy and Mr. Truman both wear glasses, have a daughter, and are Democrats. I think that’s why when it looked as though Thomas Dewey would win the election, Daddy jumped in the Pearl River and tried to drown himself. It took four of his friends to pull him out, one a member of the Elks Club.
 
Momma said he just did it to show off, besides, he had had eighteen Pabst Blue Ribbon beers. Momma says he isn’t anything like Harry Truman at all. Mr. Truman’s little girl is named Margaret. I got stuck with Daisy Fay.… Most people call me little Fay because they call my Mother Big Fay, although I don’t know why, she isn’t all that big. Momma wanted to name me Mignon after her sister, but Daddy pitched a fit and said he didn’t want his only daughter named after a steak. He was making such a commotion, and the woman with the birth certificate was tired of waiting, so Grandma Pettibone settled the whole thing by naming me Daisy, just because there happened to be a vase of daisies in the room. I sure would love to know who sent those rotten daisies anyway. Daddy and I hate that name because it sounds country and we are not country at all. Jackson is a big city and we live in an apartment. I prefer the name Dale or Olive, not after Olive Oyl but after the actress sister of Joan Fontaine, Olive de Havilland.
 
Momma and Daddy are fighting all the time now. An Army Air Force buddy of Daddy’s named Jimmy Snow called and told him that if he could get $500 Daddy could buy a half interest in a malt shop in Shell Beach, Mississippi, and make a fortune. The malt shop is right on a beach that looks just like Florida.
 
Jimmy won a half interest in the malt shop in a poker game and needs $500 to get the other half. He’s a crop duster, so Daddy could run the whole thing and he would be a silent partner. Daddy has been crazy trying to get the money. He made Momma mad because he wanted to sell her diamond rings. She said they were not worth $500 and how dare he try and take the rings off her fingers! Besides, she wasn’t going anywhere with him, him drinking so much. So, he invented a practical joke he was sure he could sell for $500. A friend of his has a filling station with an outhouse where he tried out his invention. He put a speaker under the outhouse and connected it to a microphone in the filling station. He made the mistake of trying it out on Momma. He waited until she went in and had time to sit down, then he disguised his voice and said, “Could you move over, lady, we’re working down here!” Momma, who’s very modest and says Daddy has never seen her fully undressed, screamed and ran out the door and cried for five hours. She said it was the most disgusting thing that ever happened to her.
 
This joke on Momma caused her to leave him and go visit her sister in Virginia to think about a divorce, something she does all the time. I had to go with her. The child always goes with the mother. My aunt has so many children that it made Momma nervous at dinnertime, so we came home.
 
I hope Daddy gets the money soon. If we move to Shell Beach, I can have a pony and go swimming every day. Daddy is busy working on his new invention. He has an English red worm bed in the backyard and as soon as they grow, he is going to freeze them and sell them all over the country.
 
A lot of people think Daddy is peculiar, including the members of his immediate family, but not me. His name is William Harper, Jr. Momma says that he got this idea to get out of Jackson when he was in the Army and learned to like Yankees. He still hates hunters, though. Whenever he reads in the paper where one of them shoots another, he laughs and chalks one up for our side. He loves all animals, cats in particular. He swears all dictators hate cats because they can’t dominate them. Hitler would foam at the mouth at the sight of one, and I guess my daddy knows because he fought him in the war.
 
He was drafted in the Army Air Corps when I was only two years old. He cost them a lot of money because he is so skinny they had to make him special uniforms and special goggles with his own prescription so he could see.
 
But as Daddy says, “When you’re at war, they’ll take anything.” Daddy didn’t get out of the United States, but he did break his toe when he hit the ground before his parachute opened in Louisiana. The plane had already landed in the swamp when he jumped, so he could have just stayed in the plane, but Daddy lost his glasses and didn’t see it had landed. That’s where he met Jimmy Snow. Jimmy was a pilot and was always yelling bail out over the headset as a joke.
 

Reader's Guide

1. The novel begins the day after Daisy Fay’s eleventh birthday and ends more than seven years later. How does the passage of time affect the way the story is told? Is the older Daisy Fay at the end very much like the child at the beginning?

2. In what ways is Daisy Fay a typical young girl and in what ways is she unique? What formative factors in her life stand out as unusual?

3. Do you agree that Daisy Fay’s parents should have separated? They both had their faults, but do you think more of the blame lies with one or the other?

4. Throughout the novel, Daisy Fay is drawn to people with certain characteristics, and she seems to form friendships effortlessly. How does she read people and assess their character? What is she seeking in her relationships, and does she always get it?

5. Why do you think the author uses the diary format for this novel?

6. Do you find any of the attitudes toward race that are expressed in the novel surprising? What is Daisy Fay’s attitude toward people she views as different from herself or from society at large?

7. Daisy Fay’s mother abandons her twice, once when she leaves Daisy’s father and a second time when she passes away. Do you think Daisy had a good relationship with her mother? In an era when women were predominantly homemakers, why do you think Daisy stayed with her father?

8. Do you think a similar story could have taken place in another part of the country? To what extent does the setting affect what happens in the novel?

9. A whole cast of colorful characters parade through the pages of the novel: Mrs. Dot, Peachy Wigham, Mr. Cecil . . .Can you think of someone like these characters in real life?

10. What is it about Kay Bob Benson that makes the reader love to hate her so much?

11. Why do you think Pickles and Daisy Fay stop being friends after Pickle gets pregnant? Do you think friendships can ever survive unscathed when people’s lives change dramatically?

12. What leads to Daisy Fay’s eventual success? What qualities does she have that make people warm up to her and want to help her?

13. For a large part of the novel Daisy Fay believes that her father and Jimmy Snow killed a man in order to keep her safe. To what extent do the people in Daisy Fay’s life protect her and to what extent do they act without regard to the impact their actions may have?

14. Who do you think is the “miracle man” in the title, and what miracle might he have performed?

15. While humor plays a large role in the novel, happy events are often tempered by tragedies that follow on their heels. How does Daisy Fay cope with unfortunate circumstances? Are Daisy’s attempts at humor always convincing?

16. In what way do you think Jimmy Snow was in love with Daisy Fay—like a daughter or more romantically? Do you
think he should have told her?

17. Do you think Daisy Fay’s future after the novel ends will be bright? Why or why not? What might be in store for her beyond the last page?

Q & A

A Conversation with Fannie Flagg

Q: Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to write Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man? Is any of it based on your experiences as a girl growing up in the South?

FF: Several things inspired me to write this book. While attending my first writer’s conference, I heard the great Ray Bradbury speak about all the books from his childhood that had inspired him to become a writer. Each and every book he mentioned were either adventure books or coming-of--age books about little boys, all written by men. As I sat there and thought about what I had read as a child, I realized there were very few books about little girls compared to so many books about little boys, it didn’t seem fair. Then it suddenly struck me that maybe I should try and write a book about a little girl! At the same conference we were told to write what you know and so yes, the book is indeed based on my experiences growing up in the South.

Q: How did you prepare yourself to get into the mind-set of a very young child? What challenges did you face making Daisy’s voice age throughout the novel?

FF: I had to go back in my mind and remember what it was like being a child and observing life without having the real story. I was very careful not to let the grown-up writing the story slip in and know or say things that Daisy would have no knowledge of. I was also writing the story on two levels. I was writing the story about what was really happening in the adult world and also writing what Daisy Fay thought was happening, which was not always the same thing.

Q: In both Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man and Standing in the Rainbow, you portray the 1950s. Is there something about that time period that you find particularly evocative?

FF: I suppose having been raised in the Fifties, I am particularly in love with that period and in reality they were pretty wonderful from the standpoint of a child. Not to be cliché, but it was a time of innocence and I suspect there is a part of me that would like to go back when we were not dealing with so many problems, like drugs, crime, and so much anger in the world. I remember never having to lock our doors or worry about our children. As I remember, America seemed like a safe place.

Q:
Who is your favorite character in this novel?

FF: I think Daisy Fay is my favorite character because she is such an optimist, even when things are terrible in her life. I would like to be more like her.

Q: Did you ever consider ending the book a different way? If so, what would have happened?

FF: No, the book ended the way I think her life would have gone up to that point. She is headed into the world believing she will be somebody someday.

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