Lazy Lambs Book Club: Fried Green Tomatoes

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!

FGTAWSCFried 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!TGWFFTS

 

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9 Comments

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  1. That was just about the most Southern thing I’ve ever read. 😀 Part of it was just name recognition, and another part the whole storytelling style and the expressions. And I think it works for the story, I don’t know if it would have nearly the same impact and tone if it was set anywhere else. Detached from its sense of place, it’s any old small-town story. Interestingly, though, I’d heard about the book for yeaaaaars and always just heard it was Southern — no mention of any lesbians whatsoever. Possibly these were movie people and not book people… Knowing it’s there it can be seen in the movie, but anyone who wasn’t primed to see it could easily go on about their business thinking it’s a story about female friendships. Which it is, but not exclusively. That can also be a typically Southern way of reading a book and just not mentioning that little scandal, pretending it doesn’t exist.

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  2. I haven’t read the book, but your portrayal of it makes me want to. I also like what you said a or how no book is obligated (probably not even capable) to address All the Cultural Things.

    I don’t think I understood the movie very well when I watched it when I was young. I have been to the filming location, though, where a Whistle Stop Cafe operates and serves – what else? – fried green tomatoes.

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    1. I hope you enjoy it if you decide to give it a read!

      I think a lot of times we get caught up in wanting a book or a movie to do everything perfectly because it does one thing well—Orange is the New Black is another example of that, I think—but that doesn’t really seem fair to the work.

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  3. I read the book first and saw the movie second. I was disappointed in the movie, but only because it didn’t portray the relationships as authentically as the book had. It was 1991 after all.
    It certainly evoked ‘The South’ for me, but I was way further south (Australia) than most and only had an appreciation of things ‘Southern’ filtered through whatever popular culture the US exported my way.

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    1. It does line up with a lot of the conversations and stereotypes that make their way out of the South, yes—and I think that both works for and against the book. It’s a good depiction, and it’s nuanced.

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  4. My Southern experience is super-limited (I spent a week in New Orleans once… primarily in the hotel where the conference I was attending was – and the adjacent businesses… pretty sure it’s not a good representation of “Southern Culture.”) so all I really know of it is what I have seen in movies, read in books, and heard through friends. More than “southern” I felt like the story encapsulated certain eras — the time around the depression and the early-80’s.
    Though, I say that while, still, there is most definitely some things in the story that scream to me “Southern” and that I feel would play out differently if the setting of the tale were elsewhere.

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    1. I think that’s a good point about the time-period….The book is definitely mired in certain eras.

      I guess what I mean about the sense of Southernness in the book is that I don’t think ti could happen in another place, and sometimes it’s like the place itself is a character.

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    1. The book is really good, and it gives you a lot more of the town than the film can do. I think the movie is a good adaptation, but there’s just too much story to fit into a movie.

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