Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
I first read Fried Green Tomatoes back in the 1990s and remember it as a truly heartwarming read and a great novel to curl up with. The story telling is sublime. Evelyn Crouch befriends Ninny Threadgoode whilst visiting her mother-in-law at an Old People's rest home. Ninnie tells her all about the town of Whistle Stop in Birmingham, Alabama, the cafe there and the owners Idgie and Ruth. The story jumps back and forth as Ninnie relates the story and we are transported back in time to hear the real version of events. The narrative is also interspersed with the 'Weekly Weems' which are humorous notes to the 'headlines' whilst being full of town gossip.
Released in 1987, parts of the novel feel very progressive namely the relationship between Ruth and Idgie. Ruth marries Frank Bennett who turns out to be violent and abusive. With the help of Idgie, Big George and other friends, Ruth and her small son are able to flee the marriage and are brought back to Whistle Stop by Idgie. Frank, seeking revenge come to Whistle Stop to drag his family back to him, but then mysteriously disappears.
There are no comments or whispers about Ruth and Idgie, it is accepted. They were always destined to be with each other. Idgie is a marvellous character, helping the homeless during the Depression, providing support and food to the Black residents of Troutville from the 'back door' and going against the threats of the KKK. Idgie is a free spirit choosing how to live and who her friends are.
But, and this is where things get difficult, it is a novel about 1920s Alabama. The language, as it was at the time, is dotted throughout with the 'n' word. Black people are depicted as humble and devoted to the white people. Two Black brothers turn to God and crime respectively. And we witness how it one rule for Black people and a more forgiving rule for white people all whilst living under the threat of the KKK.
It is difficult to recommend this. The storytelling is wonderful. Idgie, Ruth, Evelyn, and Ninnie are all great characters. It is joyous to see Evelyn get her mojo back. But at times I did find myself becoming uncomfortable reading about a population who are treated appallingly yet portrayed as thankful.
I do think Fannie Flagg is a fantastic writer. I felt like I was at home with my family hearing the tales I've heard hundreds of times before but which are so beloved we don't mind hearing them again. Back in the 1990s, to read this book was a wonderful, heart-warming experience. One half of the novel is very progressive namely Ruth and Idgie's relationship. But aspects of the novel feel uncomfortable.