Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
Random House, 1987, 2005
Have you ever had fried green tomatoes? Mom has and she says that even though she absolutely hates tomatoes, there is something about them picked green and fried up that is all yum for the tum. (I’ve include the recipe courtesy of the book at the end of the post!) Anyway, this book is all yum for the tum for me. A book about the American South that shows it in all its glory, humor, and horror full of characters to both love and hate.
The story opens in 1986 with a middle aged white woman who is, by her own admission, lost in the world. Evelyn Couch’s children are gone, her husband a mere shadow in her life and a craving for candy bars that beats anything I ever saw. She is visiting her mother-in-law in a nursing home with her husband and when she has had enough of visiting she goes elsewhere to eat some candy. In the hall she meets and 87-year-old resident named Ninny Threadgoode who takes Evelyn and the reader on a journey more than 50 years in the past through months of telling stories of Whistle Stop, Alabama.
We meet Idgie Threadgoode, as both the irrepressible wild child and free-thinking adult; Ruth Jamison whose tender heart and beauty attracts all; Big George, who makes the best barbecue in town; Onzell (Big George’s wife)and Sipsey (Big George’s mom) who make the best everything else (fried green tomatoes, pecan pie, chicken and dumplings – typical southern fare) at the Whistle Stop Café; Grady Kilgore, town sheriff; and the horrible Frank Bennett. There is also a mystery to be solved – who murdered who and why and who goes on trial for it! (If you’ve seen the movie, you know. If you haven’t seen the movie, read the book first. The book is better than the movie but with Jessica Tandy as Ninny Threadgoode and Kathy Bates as Evelyn Couch, the movie is pretty outstanding, too!)
The book is written in Fannie Flagg style – like sitting with your grandmother or long-time friend listening with bated breath while they tell you a long and convoluted story. It has multiple story threads and meanders its way through the lives of a lot of people, but mostly Idgie’s and Evelyn’s. In spite of all the smaller stories occurring around the main plot line the book is an easy read and it’s easy to follow the individual character’s lives. The book warms the heart with tears and joy and is an American Classic in the vein as To Kill a Mockingbird.