Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe might just be my all time favorite book. I’ve lost time of how many times I’ve read it, and it’s usually my go-to book for when I need to grab something off the shelf and pass the time. This time, I got stranded in South Station for an extra two hours when my train home got delayed, so I read this from start to finish in that time.
The description on the back cover of the book reads: “Folksy and fresh, endearing and affecting, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the now-classic novel of two women in the 1980s: of gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, who is in the sad slump of middle age. The tale she tells is also of two women - of the irrepressibly daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth - who back in the thirties ran a little place in Whistle Stop, Alabama, a Southern kind of Cafe Wobegon offering good barbecue and good coffee and all kinds of love and laughter, even an occasional murder. And as the past unfolds, the present - for Evelyn and for us - will never be quite the same again… “
The way that it’s told - skipping from the present time, the 1980s, where Evelyn Couch is listening to Ninny Threadgoode retell tales from the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, to past decades in Whistle Stop that revolve around characters such as Idgie Threadgoode, Ruth Jamison, Grady Kilgore, Sipsey, Onzell, Big George, and Smokey Lonesome - isn’t overwhelming at all like some books tend to be. They blend together easily, with chapters separated by weekly bulletins from a woman named Dot Weems who wrote for the Whistle Stop Gazette between the 1920s and when Whistle Stop became a ghost town in the 1950s.
There are strong themes throughout the book that include the idea of aging (Ninny is well into her 80s as she tells Evelyn her stories, and it becomes increasingly apparent as the book wears on that her mind is losing its sharpness), friendship (between Ninny and Evelyn, between Idgie and Ruth, between Idgie and Grady, and between most of the townspeople in general), African American culture and treatment in the 1920s (the Ku Klux Klan is featured several times, and parts of the book follow Sipsey, the African American cook for the Whistle Stop Cafe, and her family), and murder (Ruth’s abusive husband returns for her and Sipsey, in order to protect Ruth’s baby, murders him with a skillet).
One of the major themes of the book is the relationship between Idgie and Ruth. It is never explicitly stated in the book that the two of them are in a relationship, but it isn’t difficult to read between the lines and see that they are. There are points in the story where Ruth’s son, Buddy Jr., refers to Idgie as his mother without question, and everyone in the town seems to accept their relationship without question. This is unusual for this time period, but Flagg pulls it off without any skepticism or suspension of belief. It’s easy to see that they’re just two people in a relationship dealing with everyday problems.
Some of the quotes that I highlighted are as follows:
“I wonder how many people don’t get the one they want, but end up with the one they’re supposed to be with.”
“You know, a heart can be broken, but it keeps on beating, just the same.”
“The ones that hurt the most always say the least.”
“No matter what you look like, there’s somebody who’s gonna think you’re the handsomest man in the world.”