Arts Arts Editor Books Muse

Book of the Month: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Jenna Luxon on why Fannie Flagg's 1987 bestseller continues to impress readers time and again

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Image Credit: Vintage Publishing, 2012

Usually when I sit down each month to write this series there is one books that instantly stands out. Perhaps one I’ve read recently or one that just seems to fit with a particular theme or event in the coming month. But sadly, this month, that is not the case.

December for me, has been one of those odd periods where none of my reading material has quite hit the spot. My plan to catch up with reading for pleasure over the Christmas break was stumped by the fact I simply couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. And so, I reached into the back of my bookshelf for an old favourite instead, the oldie but goodie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Published back in 1987, Fried Green Tomatoes follows the friendship between Evelyn Couch and Ninn Threadgoode. Evelyn is a middle-aged housewife living in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1980s, where she goes with her husband each week to visit her mother-in-law in a nursing home. It is during these weekly visits that Evelyn meets eighty-six-year-old Ninny who begins to tell her stories of her life growing up in the small railway town of Whistle Stop.

The novel flits between Evelyn’s visits to see Ninny and the stories she tells her of life in Whistle Stop, Evelyn’s own life living with her husband and the challenges she's facing and parts of Ninny's story told in the present tense instead of through her own voice looking back.

On the one hand Fried Green Tomatoes is an idyllic account of small-town life in 1920s America. Throughout the book there are excerpts from local busy body Dot Weems' weekly news bulletin that recount all the inconsequential town gossip, despite the fact everybody knows everyone else's business already. It is filled with baking and church gatherings, children playing by the river and walking round to your friend’s house where the door is always open.

But underneath the cosy exterior, this book is also about racism and bigotry. That despite supposedly knowing all about each other’s lives, the residents of Whistle Stop still aren't quite sure which of their neighbours are the ones going out with the KKK after dark.

It is a book about divisions and hardship. Dealing with domestic abuse, same-sex relationships in the 1930s and the effects of the great depression, this book goes beyond the rose-tinted notion that everyone banded together to instead dive into the lives of the people behind the mouths that weren’t being fed.

Beautifully demonstrating how people’s lives can intersect in the most unusual ways, Fried Green Tomatoes too deals with the hard truth of a generation dying out and with it a way of life. This book will draw you in with its complex characters and light-hearted comedy before sucker punching you right back with heartbreak, betrayal and loss.

Fried Green Tomatoes spent 36 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and in 1991 was made in to an Oscar nominated film. With even the great writer herself Harper Lee praising it for it's 'poignant narrative', Fried Green Tomatoes is a fail safe reading option you can return to time and again.

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5 Comment

Jonathan Forley Posted on Sunday 19 Jan 2020

I learned some noble instructions from this book. These characters preserved each other well, helped each other out when somebody wanted to support, and loved and celebrated each other. I wish that time would come back and maybe it will.
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