Oh, look, it’s time—err, past time—for another Lazy Lambs Book Club post, this time about Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Allison and Hannah are, of course, dutifully ahead of me, but this wouldn’t be Lazy Lambs if I weren’t, um, a bit lazy about it. Or something. I’ve been a bit under the weather, and a bit busier than I thought I would be, too—I didn’t even make it around for coffee shares this weekend! Anyhow, on to the book!
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is Alabama-native Fannie Flagg’s second novel, published in 1987 and brought to the screen in 1991 as Fried Green Tomatoes starring Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary Loise Parker, Jessica Tandy, and Kathy Bates. I watched the movie first, I’m sure. I would’ve been young—just 7 when it came out and about 9 or 10 when they started airing the movie on TV, which is where I first saw it. Back then I didn’t understand everything about the story, but there was some truth-y quality that I recognized even then. When I was older, my mother bought me several of Fannie Flagg’s books–among them Fried Green Tomatoes–for Christmas one year, and I was able to compare book and movie for the first time.
Neither story is linear, but I think both work best that way. In the film, the story works as a frame story—we move back and forth between the frame, which is a nursing home in Birmingham, and the story-within-a-story that Mrs. Cleo Threadgoode (a resident of the nursing home) tells Mrs. Evelyn Couch (a middle aged woman visiting her ill-tempered MIL) about the residents of Whistle Stop, Alabama. The novel’s structure is more complex, adding to the primary stories a town newspaper column (Weems Weekly) from Whistle Stop and the Slagtown news, from the neighboring black community, helping to round-out characters and further presenting the town itself as a character.
And perhaps that’s one of the things I love the most about this book–the way Whistle stop itself is a character with a personality, purpose—and a life-cycle. I could see my own town’s life-cycle dwindling in front of me–the one small theater in town closing, businesses opening and then quickly closing again, and a population of children and elderly, with few young professionals–but had also heard all the local urban legends and learned the off-handed, bittersweet charm of a sleepy Southern town.
And it is bittersweet. Flagg’s writing doesn’t neglect the racial tensions of the era or the complex, ambivalent ways those tensions often showed up, the way they still show up. The novel isn’t perfect, of course—I can’t help but see a bit of idealism in Flagg’s Whistle Stop, which we see mostly through the lens of Mrs. Threadgoode’s remembrances. But perhaps that is as it should be. One novel shouldn’t be expected, can’t be realistically expected to do All the Cultural Work. But this one does a lot. Flagg manages to get us thinking about racism, sexism, sexuality, and class, if we’re looking closely—but we do have to look closely for some of it.
The thing I keep coming back to, though, is how very *Southern* the story is, and how (especially with certain subsets of Southern culture) you DO have to look closely to see these issues because people don’t’ always talk about them. Not in so many words. I suppose here’s my question, then—Does this story feel like an essentially Southern story to you, and does that work for or against it?
Our next book is going to be The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow. Which we’ll discuss some time around the end of December!