‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe’ by Fannie Flagg

Extract

ROSE TERRACE NURSING HOME

OLD MONTGOMERY HIGHWAY
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

DECEMBER 15, 1985

Evelyn Couch had come to Rose Terrace with her husband, Ed, who was visiting his mother, Big Momma, a recent but reluctant arrival. Evelyn had just escaped them both and had gone into the visitors’ lounge in the back, where she could enjoy her candy bar in peace and quiet. But the moment she sat down, the old woman beside her began to talk …

“Mrs. Otis and I are from Whistle Stop, a little town about ten miles from here, out by the railroad yards…. She’s lived down the street from me for the past thirty years or so, and after her husband died, her son and daughter-in-law had a fit for her to come and live at the nursing home, and they asked me to come with her. I told them I’d stay with her for a while–she doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going back home just as soon as she gets settled in good.

“But I never drove a car … I’ve been stranded most all my life. Always stayed close to home. Always had to wait for somebody to come and carry me to the store or to the doctor or down to the church. Years ago, you used to be able to take a trolley to Birmingham, but they stopped running a long time ago. The only thing I’d do different if I could go back would be to get myself a driver’s license.

“I brought a picture with me that I had at home, of a girl in a swing with a castle and pretty blue bubbles in the background, to hang in my room, but that nurse here said the girl was naked from the waist up and not appropriate. You know, I’ve had that picture for fifty years and I never knew she was naked. If you ask me, I don’t think the old men they’ve got here can see well enough to notice that she’s bare-breasted. But, this is a Methodist home, so she’s in the closet with my gallstones.

“Anyway, the other night, when Mrs. Otis’s son took us home from the Christmas tea they had at the church, he drove us over the railroad tracks, out by where the cafe used to be, and on up First Street, right past the old Threadgoode place. Of course, most of the house is all boarded up and falling down now, but when we came down the street, the headlights hit the windows in such a way that, just for a minute, that house looked to me just like it had so many of those nights, some seventy years ago, all lit up and full of fun and noise. I could hear people laughing, and Essie Rue pounding away at the piano in the parlor; `Buffalo Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight’ or `The Big Rock Candy Mountain,’ and I could almost see Idgie Threadgoode sitting in the chinaberry tree, howling like a dog every time Essie Rue tried to sing. She always said that Essie Rue could sing about as well as a cow could dance. I guess, driving by that house and me being so homesick made me go back in my mind …

“I remember it just like it was yesterday, but then I don’t think there’s anything about the Threadgoode family I don’t remember. Good Lord, I should, I’ve lived right next door to them from the day I was born, and I married one of the boys.

“There were nine children, and three of the girls, Essie Rue and the twins, were more or less my own age, so I was always over there playing and having spend-the-night parties. My own mother died of consumption when I was four, and when my daddy died, up in Nashville, I just stayed on for good. I guess you might say the spend-the-night party never ended …”

Review

This book was recommended to me after I loved and devoured ‘The Help.’ Although a slow burn at first, I loved the multiple narratives, all revealing aspects of life at ‘The Whistle Stop Cafe.’ The novel follows the stories of Ninny Threadgoode, as she retells tales from her youth and life in Alabama, to Evelyn who starts to visit her at the nursing home. I love the characters of Idgie and Ruth, who run the Whistle Stop Cafe together, they are so different yet they work and create this dynamic team. The life that they build together in 1920’s Alabama is one full of love and trials; as members of the Threadgoode family they face adversities and the fight against injustices, including the KKK.

This novel is heartwarming, sad and touching. I fell in love with every character and the journey they take. I don’t usually enjoy repeated changes in narrative or times but somehow this was very successful and I don’t think the novel would be what it is without it. The Whistle Stop Cafe is not without its heartbreak and sadness but Ninny’s love for the past adds a nostalgia that combats the sadness. As a narrator Ninny is able to weave together all of their lives in a fun way, yet leaves plenty for the reader to speculate on.

This novel doesn’t just follow the lives of the Threadgoode family, it provides a comment on how thriving towns became deserted due to industrialisation, how when growing old you lose so much, racism in Alabama and how to have faith when you have lost everything.

If you loved ‘The Help’ this is a good novel to read, however, I didn’t find it as easy of a read. And although all of the ‘big’ questions in the novel are answered, there are still elements of the story, especially the ending, that I would have liked to have been developed. Flagg needed to add around another 50 pages to fully satisfy this reader, yet that is also what has stayed with me, and this novel has certainly done that.

A lovely, well-written and engaging novel.

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