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Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe    by Fannie Flagg order for
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
by Fannie Flagg
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2000 (1987)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is an engrossing tale told in different voices. It metes out to us pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that come together to show a community of individuals who lived in Depression era Alabama. They exist in an oasis of compassion and tolerance centered on the Whistle Stop Cafe and its two owners, the wild and wilful Idgie and the sweet, centered Ruth.

We see this community back and forth in time and through repeated tragedy, with a strong mix of humour in their daily lives. Its people deal with tough issues - prejudice and discrimination, abuse of women, maiming and murder - with wisdom and pragmatic justice. The picture evolves slowly through the eyes of Evelyn Couch, a middle aged wife and mother, who has always done what was expected of her and lost herself in the process.

Depressed and overweight, Evelyn encounters Ninny Threadgoode while visiting her mother-in-law at an old folks' home in the 1980's. At first she listens politely but soon looks forward to regular accounts of life and times at the Whistle Stop Cafe. These reminiscences are interspersed with third person accounts of the same events and with delightful tidbits from the Whistle Stop weekly bulletin, that make the characters feel like neighbours.

Evelyn is changed and empowered by Ninny's stories of Idgie's exploits. At first, while fighting the hormonal surges of menopause, she develops a fantasy life as Towanda the Avenger (some of whose ideas have a definite appeal) but Evelyn eventually achieves a balance and a strong gratitude towards Ninny, who treats her as a daughter. This is one of the best messages of the book, what the old and seemingly powerless still have to offer us.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is an endearing story and a classic. Like Evelyn, any of us will be the better for reading it.

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