Book Review of “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” by Fannie Flagg.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with either the movie or the book, this is the story of the events that happened to a group of people who lived in the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama in the 1930’s. One of its female residents – Mrs. Threadgoode, tells these stories many years later, to Evelyn – a woman who makes friends with Mrs. Threadgoode while visiting her husband’s relative in the same old-age home. These stories, filled as they are with love, sex, intrigue, mystery and conflict, so intrigue Evelyn, they actually end up affecting her life as well. We also see these stories told by other past residents – through snippets of newsletters and flashback vignettes.
Rarely does one get the chance to first enjoy the movie, and then afterwards read the book, and enjoy it just as much. What’s more, to read a book after seeing the film and then still bed a fan of the film is even rarer. This is one of those occasions, especially because I found the movie to be enchanting, with believable characters, an interesting plot and great acting. What I realized only after reading the book was that the movie was only went so far. This may mean that those who read the book first, were probably somewhat disappointed with the film. That’s why I think I got it right – movie first, book afterwards.
One of the first things you’ll notice is that Flagg put tons of charm into this book, without getting sappy or sentimental. This is a major achievement, especially when we recall that some issues addressed here are very controversial – including the KKK, family abuse, segregation and more. In addition, Flagg leaves us with little to no illusions as to the general attitudes of southerners towards these issues, while at the same time shows us there were those who quietly felt differently. Flagg’s heroes were in this minority when that could get you into a whole “heap” of trouble. Certainly, the idea of being in trouble – or trying to avoid it – is at the essence of this novel.
Written in short to medium length vignettes, this book is a quick read. We jump from one time and place to another without batting an eyelash. Although this method of writing can be very confusing to the reader, this was not the case with this novel. Flagg has used her typesetters to the maximum, making older entries look vastly different from the entries taking place in the present. She even went so far as to make certain parts look like actual copies of the old, local newsletter. In this way, nothing keeps us from understanding what is taking place and when it is happening.
Furthermore, the characters quickly take on a feeling of being very lifelike, and I don’t say that just because I saw the movie first. Interestingly enough, I found that while reading, I visualized the characters to look somewhat (and in some cases completely) different from the actors who portrayed them in the movie. This is particularly unusual because I don’t think that Hollywood made any casting mistakes. This book also makes the reader truly feel the atmosphere of the eras when these stories take place. This is often a downfall of many writers; many a time I have started reading a book and suddenly, in the third or fourth chapter, realized the action was taking place in another time altogether. I suppose it helps that Flagg dates the beginning of each vignette, but I often skip over that information, and could still feel when the action was taking place.
As for the plot, even though I saw the movie, the story still drew me in and most of it felt completely new, probably because the movie left some questions unanswered. This is how the book kept me guessing all the way to the last page. Finally, an added extra is the little set of recipes, which are included at the end of the book, which also have literary over-tones. It is almost as if you aren’t reading a recipe, but rather sitting in the Whistle Stop Café’s kitchen and taking a cooking lesson from an expert like Sipsy.
Please don’t be daunted by having already seen the movie and think you’ll be disappointed with the book. Also, don’t worry about reading the book since the movie won’t become a disappointment. They both have their merits, both deserve a fair chance, and both are wonderful – a full five out of five stars, wonderful, in fact. So, off you go now, and get that book, ya’ hear? There’s a good honey-chile! And thank-ye, kindly, for giving this ol’ review a look-see.
“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” by Fannie Flagg published by Random House, Ballentine Books, originally released August 12, 1987 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Kobo eBooks, Kobo audiobooks, eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from Bookshop.org or an IndieBound store near you. (This is a revised version of an article that originally appeared on the now defunct consumer review site Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady.)